When I saw a brief television clip of how a Coweta football coach was reprimanded for joining his players in prayer, I thought, surely, this is somehow being misconstrued.
However, it would appear our school administrators are cautioning faculty and staff from joining student-initiated prayer.
As a person of faith, I ask, at what point does our faith animate us to speak out in the public marketplace? Do we shrink back in our homes and take solace in our houses of worship as the only places we can express our faith?
Armed with a letter crafted by lawyers, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based organization, was able to successfully remove prayer from local school board meetings a few years ago, and now, seem to have found success, yet again, in intimidating anyone working in public schools who display their faith publicly.
How have they done this? By simply using erroneous interpretations of federal law — including the first amendment and the Establishment Clause. If one were to read the original documents, one could clearly recognize that the intent of these documents is to protect citizens from the potential of the government becoming a religious state and imposing its will on people. This was one of the reasons our nation was founded in the first place.
Yet, the very name of the FFRF betrays and sheds light on the true intent of the organization, which does not appear to honor our constitution. Rather, it seems to be undermining it, for our U.S. Constitution states that we have “freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof,” not “Freedom From Religion.”
I know there are those who truly have a distaste for when religion and faith start to dive into the realm of public issues and politics. The thought process is, why can’t we keep these things separate?
But this line of thinking gives rise and sway to entities like the FFRF gaining a foothold in our community. And, I contend that there are times when the two realms do cross.
Rather than simply allow these times to slide by, we must respectfully dissent, and not allow yet another inalienable right, like simply consenting with student-initiated prayer, to be stripped from us. When the actions of FFRF are successful and there is no reaction from the public, it screams into our culture and those who serve in our public schools that no public act of worship is permissible. Does that sound like “freedom of religion” to you?
To my fellow people of faith, if your faith is a part of who you are, it cannot, nor should it be, completely private. The very founding of our nation was established on the premise that we are a free people, and specifically acknowledges our right, as given by our Creator, to worship. However, if freedom to worship is deemed appropriate only in private settings, then it is not freedom at all.
To the Christian specifically, who are inclined to stay out of the fray (after all, didn’t Jesus stay out of politics?), I would submit that the goal of all Christians should be to live their lives (through words and deeds) as a reflection of who God is and thereby influence others.
And while Jesus did not explicitly try to overthrow the pagan and Roman governments of his day, he did speak most harshly to the religious leaders. He held them to account because they — not the Roman rulers — were founded on the laws He established.
I submit that if our nation’s laws were established under Judeo-Christian values, and are explicitly under our Creator, ought we not also to remind our governing authorities to uphold these laws, just as Jesus did to the religious, governing leaders of his day?
To those who are not of any religious faith, I ask you, did you ever feel that the laws of this country put you in a position where you felt that you were at risk of losing your job, or your livelihood?
As one who lived the first half of their life as a non-religious person, I may have felt different when others expressed their faith, but I never felt our government would punish me for expressing my beliefs, as many people of faith who work in government feel today.
That is because of the freedoms our country acknowledges, and I implore us to remember. One ought to be free to worship, or not worship according to one’s beliefs, without fear of reprisal.
If we are honest with ourselves, we must concede that there is a growing anti-religious fascism that is creeping into our community and taking hold in our country.
I use the term “fascism” because it is not the physical actions of the football coach that the FFRF finds dangerous, it is the belief system that is the real danger.
Forcing the government employee to suppress all outward evidences of his belief system, or suffer the consequences, is the essence of fascism. One is not free to believe, or express what they hold to be true in public arena without punitive actions imposed on them by a governing entity.
Ironically, Christianity is now being positioned as the great threat to a diverse society when it is the non-coercive nature of Christianity as exhibited in Christ, which provided the transcendent moral reference for our society to promote freedom, equality, forgiveness, and love.
Without this moral transcendence and remaining true to our “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion,” we are left to the shifting moral inclinations of groups like the FFRF that demonstrate their intolerance of those who do not share their beliefs.
And we begin to redefine the role of government from safeguarding the freedoms of our citizenry, to protecting those who (are not physically harmed) may be emotionally offended, thereby punishing those citizens who simply desire to exercise their constitutionally-recognized freedoms.
Finally, and to the best of my ability, I want our government officials and school administrators to know that there are many within this citizenry who want them to stand up to the legal manipulations of anti-religious groups.
You may rationalize that you are protecting taxpayers from potential legal costs, or that you are protecting an anti-religious minority, but the true consequence of your non-defense is fundamentally wounding the soul of this community.
By not advocating for the constitutional rights of your employees, you are becoming complicit in undermining the original social and moral structure of our society, and implying that no constitutional right is worth fighting for. And I think groups like FFRF are counting on this.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville with her husband and their five children.]