Posted by on February 11, 2020

         Most people know where I stand politically and theologically.  And, while I’m committed to those positions, I’m not so wedded to them that I can’t find some redeeming aspect in someone who holds a different view from mine.

         For example, in reading the February 12, 2020, issue of Christian Century magazine, I saw a report headlined, “Trump Pledges to Prevent ‘Unacceptable’ Repression of School Prayer.”  At first, I thought, “Well, that’s no big deal.  Anyone can still pray in school.  The law simply prevents a school from imposing a particular religious practice on all students.”  (For example, expecting a classroom full of kids to listen to a reading of the 23rd Psalm and praying in Jesus’ name would be unconstitutional, as well it should be.  Students of other faiths, or no faith at all, would find the practice to be meaningless at best and insulting at worst, as would Christian or Jewish students expected to listen to a reading from the Qur’an or praying in the name of Allah.)

         According to the Christian Century report, there are schools that are taking the law to an unacceptable extreme and prohibiting prayer altogether: “… the president [sic] and nine federal agencies on January 16 made moves they said would support the rights of religious people, including students who report their freedom to pray has been violated.  ‘In public schools around the country, authorities are stopping students and teachers from praying, sharing their faith or following their religious beliefs,’ said Trump.”  I was impressed.  Although I have to wonder if Mr. Trump realizes that this cannot be a selective right, but must be extended to all people of faith, even Muslims.  But I digress.

         Even Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos got into the conversation.  Having developed “new guidelines,” she pointed out that they “highlight ‘constitutionally protected prayer’ [and] require state agencies to inform [her department] when complaints are filed about limitations to the free exercise of religion.”  She went on to explain that the separation of church and state concept is not in place to protect us from religion, but to protect religion from government.  Good ol’ Betsy.

         Of course, this announcement is not quite so radical as it may sound on first blush.  Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said that these guidelines are not much different from those that were enacted in 2003 under President George W. Bush.  It’s not a bad proposal.  It’s just that it doesn’t do much more than reaffirm what has been in place for the past 16 or 17 years.

         At this point, the article pretty much goes south, pointing out that the Administration has further plans to require faith-based social service providers to offer a secular alternative to people seeking their assistance, which would heavily – and negatively – impact people needing such services as housing assistance, substance abuse treatment, and vocational training.

         STILL – to maintain my point – it did me good to find at least a partially redemptive factoid related to our President.  I don’t think that anyone is one hundred percent irredeemable; if you look deep enough, even the worst among us are carrying something worthy of others’ approval.

         If Mr. Trump’s announcement did nothing all that spectacular, at least it brought the discussion of school prayer to our attention and gave those in the know the chance, once again, to clarify the law.  From the very beginning, no one was ever prohibited from praying on his or her own in school, or even to organize a group for prayer, Bible study, and the like.  The only people who cannot do so are the school’s administration, and only if they make it a requirement for the entire student body.

         But even they can pray on their own.

         Mr. Trump has decreed it.

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