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Column By John Young
When my son was in fifth grade in Texas, he found himself a pawn in a morality play. Literally.
His teacher, Mrs. Thrasher, had scripted a performance about early settlers taming the land. It was pastoral. Literally.
Central to the plot was the felling of trees and the milling of wood, presumably to build a cabin, or North America’s first Starbucks.
The audience presumed wrong. The communal quest was fulfilled when the lumber was erected – into a cross.
My wife and I later would refer to the play as “Deforestation for Christ.”
It was a stunning imposition of the teacher’s religion not only on the class but on the audience.
This was just one wrinkle of an unabashedly evangelical quest for a person whose position of authority was granted by taxpayers.
Parents later learned that Mrs. Thrasher was leaning on her students to join a campus Bible club she was forming.
To the school district’s great credit – this was Texas, after all – she was fired for refusing to acknowledge that as a representative of the state her job was not to push her religion on captive audiences.
This made her a local folk hero among others who believe this to be a “Christian nation” and who think that the government’s role is to make you, me, and that guy on the corner more holy.
They say the worst thing that ever happened to schools is the end of organized school prayer. They call it “God removed from our schools.” That’s as much of a lie and deceit as “pro-life” for those who would engage the state of Texas in each woman’s reproductive cycle.
Rest assured, for them it was “Praise Jesus” time when the Supreme Court ruled on behalf of a Bremerton, Washington, football coach who decided his calling is to make his religiosity a 50-yard-line spectacle.
Unanswered would be the court’s position if the marching band formed a pentagram and played “Sympathy for the Devil.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion said at issue was one man humbly offering “prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied.”
That’s a Trumpian falsehood. Video of coach Joseph Kennedy doing his thing shows a loud and zealous group activity that continued to grow in zeal.
If he’s unplugged from Youtube, Justice Gorsuch could read press accounts including one in the Seattle Times of swarms of people from both sides of the field “hopping the fences and rushing to the field to be close to Kennedy before he started his prayer.”
And there was no question about the coach’s motives, either. He said the objective wasn’t observing his faith in private but “helping these kids be better people.”
In other words, he wasn’t pulling a Tim Tebow. He was pulling a Billy Graham.
In the hands of this Supreme Court, the separation of church and state – and the liberties it protects — stands to take a battering.
Yes, liberties – freedom of people of varied faiths to handle their business without imposition, interference, or sponsorship from the government.
One of the great deceits of the religious right, and of the court majority, is that restrictions on states like the prohibition on school prayer are averse to religion.
It is just the opposite. The reason the founders included the religion clause of the First Amendment was to prevent the oppression posed by piously tyrannical majorities in the homelands of America’s early settlers.
Prayer isn’t calisthenics. The state can tell you to run laps to keep your pads.
The state can say, “Give me 20 pushups.” But it’s against the spirit and intent of the First Amendment for the state to say, in the form of a full-of-himself coach, “Now, gather around to pray” — even if a reckless court now says it’s OK.
Those who represent us have no business casting anyone in their morality plays.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.