December 19, 2011 | permalink
Was it out-of-touch, “activist” judges that banned school prayer, as Newt Gingrich asserts?
An op-ed by Charles C. Haynes, the Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project, reminds us that children are, in fact, permitted to pray during the school day:
“Visit public schools anywhere in America today and you’re likely to see kids praying around the flagpole, sharing their faith with classmates, reading scriptures in free time, forming religious clubs, and in other ways bringing God with them through the schoolhouse door each day…It’s true that some public school officials still misunderstand (or ignore) the First Amendment by censoring student religious expression that is protected under current law. But when challenged in court, they invariably lose.”
What’s not allowed is “school-sponsored prayer,” where “school officials…impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.” In a series of court decisions that climaxed in an six-to-one decision in 1962, both conservative and liberal judges alike have recognized that such prayers would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The ban on school-sponsored prayer has since been upheld by both liberal and conservative Supreme Courts in at least a half dozen additional cases.
When Newt says he’d have such judges arrested, he’s talking about three of the four conservative Justices sitting on the Warren court in 1962, including John M. Harlan II and Tom C. Clark.