The Manatee County School Board has yielded to the secularists and, quite understandably, to the recommendations of its professional staff.
It will no longer continue the decades-old tradition of beginning School Board meetings with the Lord’s Prayer.
There was considerable pressure and power arrayed against the board members, from their own administrator and attorney, from newspaper editorialists and from special interest anti-religious organizations.
The final blow came when the law organization that represents Christians in public issue matters told the board members it would be difficult to defend the New Testament prayer of Jesus. Given today’s climate and the organization’s willingness to defend these cases, that is easy to believe.
The board members decided not to risk taxpayer money to defend what appears to be an indefensible position.
But does this need to end the matter? Does a prayer have to be relegated to a milquetoast sectarian status designed foremost not to offend? After all, we still have some degree of free speech and religious freedom available — both of which come into play here.
There is still an opportunity for members of the School Board to exercise those freedoms.
For instance, what if a member of the Manatee County School Board, perhaps at the start of a meeting, chose individually to say a prayer for the meeting out loud? This would not be an agenda item. It would not be mandatory that anyone participate.
Those who chose to could agree with the prayer, bow and close their eyes or not. Those who chose not to could respectfully wait, as they would if the board member was speaking on any other topic.
This would not be a board-sanctioned prayer, which is what those opposing the prayer claim to be bothered by — the imprimatur of government on a religious action. But it would be individual free speech to God. It could be the Lord’s Prayer, or it could be an Old Testament prayer, or it could be a prayer from the heart.
It could invoke the name of Jesus, it could invoke the name of Yahweh, it could invoke the name of Allah, or it could invoke no name.
Board members are free to use the Lord’s name in vain. Surely they are free to use it reverently.
Our heritage suggests that this should not be a problem. So does common sense. It is demeaning and definitively anti-religious to demand that people in public office scrub all their religious groundings from their position.
George Washington certainly did not. He is widely attributed with saying, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
Abraham Lincoln, when the nation was reborn through the bloody Civil War, said, “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”
The examples throughout our history from the Continental Congress to the current Congress show the ongoing use of prayer to what even Thomas Jefferson called “an Almighty Being.”
While the history of our country suggests that such a voluntary prayer from an individual should not be a problem, I would not be surprised if it would still be challenged, and who knows what a judge might rule.
These School Board members have shown they are not cowed by the shifting sands of cultural norms. It is refreshing to see people who don’t accept what is acceptable at the moment but are willing to stand against the tide.
And if voters do not like their stand, they will simply choose others to take their place.