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Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

Tuesday, September 21, 1999

School prayer and the Constitution

School prayer.

Does it offend the Constitution to allow it? Does it offend the Constitution to ban it?

The issue tests our beliefs concerning this thing we call constitutional democracy and has implications that reach to the core foundation of our nation.

The topic is worth a little bit of ink and paper. Like good pecan pie, it is also to rich to eat the whole thing in one sitting. The most obvious piece of the pie involves the Constitution, so this week I'll chew on that for a while.

The beginning sentences of the First Amendment read, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." Constitutional scholars divide this up into two sections. The first clause forbidding Congress to establish a religion is known as the "anti-establishment" clause. The second part is known as the "free exercise" clause.

When it comes to school prayer, the two seem to collide. From the 10 words of the first clause, we have interpreted, interpolated and stretched ourselves to the banning of prayer in school.

From a common sense point of view, it seems like a pretty big leap. The authors of the amendment were writing in reaction to the Church of England a church supported by taxes levied by the government. Taxes Americans did not like paying. And so they banned their new federal government from doing the same.

Over the last few decades, this clause has been milked for all it is worth so that it's legal scope far exceeds that original intent. Gradually, we have divorced any mention of religion from any function or activity that is remotely related to government.

The general line of thought has gone something like this: "If we allow religion of any sort to be associated with a government function, then in essence, we are allowing the state to "establish" a church."

This sounds good at first. Except that the First Amendment doesn't ban all religious trappings from our government functions. It simply prevents our federal and state governments from creating a state church and there is a difference. If it were intended to completely divorce religion from government it would say so. The document is written in plain English. To take it much further is simply over extending the words to suit our current whim.

The second problem is that as we've backed down this path making sure the state doesn't found a defacto church, we've run squarely into the next clause of the First Amendment where the state is prohibited from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

The "free exercise" line of thought goes something like this: "State entities, like schools, are extensions of the people and the people have the right to exercise their religions wherever they choose, including occasions associated with government functions, like school activities. Any government regulation is an infringement on the right to freely exercise a person's religion."

If we used the same logic that has been used to extend the anti-establishment argument, we would find ourselves with government being unable to create order in any situation where religious practice was claimed. For example, school graduation could become a wild melee of competing religious factions and school boards and their representatives would have no ability to create order at the event.

We haven't succumbed to this overreaching interpretation yet. However, the Supreme Court has chosen to favor the anti-establishment clause over the free exercise clause. To do so is wrong.

The only way that sense can be made of both clauses, is if the they are interpreted literally and in their historical context. In this light, the first amendment would not prohibit religious involvement at state associated functions, nor would it allow for a chaotic jumble of competing religious factions at every state sponsored activity.

And school prayer would be what it should be a non-constitutional issue to be decided by majority vote.

Unless enough people care one way or another to amend the Constitution. That's the proper way to do it. And the only way that does not weaken this Constitution that protects us all from the tyranny of absolute majority rule.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Smokey Briggs is the Editor and Publisher of the Pecos Enterprise whose column appears on Tuesdays. He can be e-mailed at:

Your View

All-inclusive prayers

I was pleased to see all the supporters of prayer in school writing letters to the editor. Also on the same page was the editorial telling use how to get prayer re-instated in the schools. So I'd like to be the first to suggest which prayer goes first.

You see, if we cannot allow only one prayer, i.e.: The Lords Prayer, since that would constitute a state sanctioned religion, we would have to have all- inclusive prayers. Now I personally would like to have the first prayer in Hebrew, probably the Shama, a very important prayer declaring there is but one G-d. Then for our Hindu friends, the second prayer could be one of their favorites. Scientolgy has declared itself a religion so L. Ron Hubbard's followers could go next, followed by a Protestant prayer, and then a Muslim prayer where the kids could bow towards Mecca. Then the Satanists could do one of theirs- Oh yeah, Satanism is a religion and could not be excluded. Then they could pray the Rosary, followed by Buddhist, B'hai, Unitarian, Druid, etc until we start the cycle all over again. Just think how much our children will learn about other religions and maybe even decide to embrace a new faith they find more to their liking.

Also think about the tolerance learned by all. I mean our children could learn to respect other peoples rights to their own faiths. Maybe it will end all religious wars. After all aren't all religious wars begun with a prayer?


Silent meditation at games not forbidden

I would like to congratulate the P-B-T ISD school board on the stance they took to observe the law pertaining to "SCHOOL PRAYER". I do believe that the Christian zealots of this community have not totally read or understand why the law was passed.

It was not passed with anti-Christian sentiment, but with an eye towards religious tolerance. The vocal minority here and in the communities that are opting to ignore the law, seems to forget that Christians are not a majority in the world. That, although, they may be in the majority in most small communities, they do not represent "ALL" the beliefs in their community. Others can view the prayers they want to use as offensive. It would be extremely difficult to write a prayer that would satisfy all beliefs, so in order not to offend or impose a prayer that would be deemed offensive the easy answer was to ban all prayer.

Please notice the use of the word ALL, it excludes no one. Silent meditation was not forbidden, by which each belief in his/her own way can ask for those things we pray to obtain. The speaker at the school board meeting was right when he said that Jehovah, God and Jesus Christ have been removed from government and schools, but so has Allah, Yahwah, Buddha, and Confucius. Man has proven himself, throughout history, to be totally intolerant of beliefs that do not conform to what he holds as true.

Until such time that we can accept what others believe with the same fervor as we accept what we believe, prayer should be removed from the public venue. The law does not ban prayer, it only says that in public it should be done in such a manner that all could participate and none feel ostracized or offended.


Hurt children need help from the public

On September 11, 1999, my daughter, Alexandrea Martinez, was on her way home from playing tennis with her friends when she had a bike accident. Two vehicles passed by and she waved them down, both cars failed to render aid.

A young man named Frank Dominguez stopped to help my daughter along with two other private citizens unknown the me at this time.

I wish to express my gratitude to those three individuals for helping my daughter. As a result of her bike accident, my daughter broke her right leg, needing surgery to correct the damage. I ask the citizens of Pecos, if you see a child on the side of the road and it appears they have fallen off their bike, skateboard or whatever activity they are doing, please stop and ask the child if they are ok... You never know, it could be your child that might need the assistance and might have a severe injury that might need medical attention immediately.

Thank you,

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