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The Battle of Philadelphia
The Battle of Philadelphia
What happens when religions disagree? One little-known case from American history illustrates the dangers of having ANY religious exercise mandated in our public schools...
There is a piece of American history -- American religious history -- which school prayer advocates do not choose to mention. This concerns the infamous \Bible wars\ which erupted in Philadelphia. Madalyn Murray O'Hair discussed this obscure event in her book Freedom Under Siege:
\When the Roman Catholics themselves would not provide enough schools, the Catholic church turned to fight the public schools where the Catholic children were in attendance. Some people today even credit our now totally secular schools to the fact that the Roman Catholic church fought so vigorously for the removal of all the religious matter in the curriculum which might be interpreted as adverse reflection on Catholicism. Conversely, rather than have an intrusion of Roman Catholic doctrines, the Protestants agreed to secularize the schools. During the nineteenth century, then, both the Protestants and the Roman Catholics feared the influence of secular education on the faith and morals of the young people, but they each, equally, feared the theological supremacy of the other more.
\The road to secularization, however, was not free of difficulties or even violence. In 1844, for instance, at the urging of the local bishop, the Philadelphia school board permitted Roman Catholic children in the public schools to read from their own version of the Bible, the Douay Version. The American Protestant Association was outraged. Mass meetings were held, two Roman Catholic churches were burned, and the rioting was stopped only when the bishop ordered all his churches closed. At the church of St. Philip Neri several people were killed. The church was broken open and only the presence of the militia, the mayor and the governor prevented its being burned to the ground...\
Numerous other confrontations followed this incident, as competing religious sects fought over the content of school prayers or other religious instruction in public schools. In 1854, for instance, a mob attacked a Roman Catholic priest in Maine after he urged his followers to seek legal remedies against mandatory Protestant verse in the state's public schools. Fifteen years later, in 1869 there were similar confrontations in Cincinnati when Roman Catholic parents went to court in order to remove their children from religious exercises in the city's school system.
Especially in today's diverse culture, there seems to be little or no agreement about the exact content of the prayers which should be recited in public schools. Although fundamentalist Christians are leading the school prayer effort, many Protestant groups are skeptical, and consider the proposal a threat to religious liberty. Atheists rightly point out that any prayer violates the rights of students who have no religious beliefs.
Could we expect a repeat of the \Bible Wars\? Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities in the United States are already clamoring for \equal access\ on behalf of displays and religious events in the public square. New age cults, voodoooists, satanists, spiritualists -- all can insist on having their prayers, holy books and ceremonies incorporated into the activities of our public schools.
A modern day version of the \Bible War\ can only divide communities, and fragment parents, teachers, school boards and ultimately the students. Rather than teach values and morals, school prayer could result in confrontations over who -- and what -- is considered \holy\. It can balkanize students into competing religious factions, and isolate the many students who have no religious beliefs whatsoever.
Religious faith -- or the lack of it -- should be a private affair. Public schools should not be forums on behalf of religious indoctrination of any kind. Rather than risk a twentieth century version of the \Bible Wars\, communities should instead promote genuine tolerance, and ensure that schools remain educational institutions, not bully pulpits.
3 2012-02-28 20:16:18
141 125 0 What is Wrong with a Few Harmless Prayers?
What's Wrong with a few Harmless Prayers?
What's Wrong With a Few Harmless Prayers in Courtrooms or Classrooms?
By Ronald J. Barrier
American Atheists National Media Coordinator
Earlier this year, in Etowah County, Alabama, circuit judge Roy Moore hit the major headlines in what has now become a full-blown showdown as to just how far an elected official can force his religious beliefs on others or use religious belief as a tool for personal political advancement. To be brief, Mr. Moore was in the habit of conducting daily prayers in his courtroom as well as exhibiting a wooden display depicting the fictitious Ten Commandments. Eventually the ACLU, on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Society, received a ruling against these practices from Judge Charles Price - not only another Alabama judge but a steward of the St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church as well. In effect, Judge Price issued an injunction enjoining Judge Moore from conducting prayers and, upon a second review, to remove the Ten Commandments display. Judge Price had determined, and rightly so, that the Ten Commandments \replica\ was nothing short of \purely religious in nature.\
Well, as Christian goodwill would have it, Judge Moore not only refused to stop inviting exclusively Christian clergy to conduct prayer ceremonies at the beginning of court proceedings, he also refused to remove the decalogue. Then Alabama Governor Fob James joined the party - threatening to call out \the national guard, and the Alabama football team\ to prevent the commandments from being removed.
Not withstanding the threat of violence posed by the governor and the outright lawlessness of the Alabama judiciary, American Atheists continues on its lonesome quest. For too long the debate has continued to focus on the where of the prayers and the decalogue, but never the why.
Sacramento, California was the site of the last American Atheists convention in 1993. The featured speaker, Madalyn Murray-O'Hair, was giving those in attendance an in-depth analysis of the Atheist dilemma in a theistic society. But besides the obvious hazards, she also addressed the cowardice of many Atheists and other freethinkers to address the issues, especially when it comes to religious beliefs, in a direct, up-front manner. Regarding the prayer debate, she questioned why many Atheists would rely solely on constitutional arguments and First-Amendment interpretations to battle the pro-prayer forces. She questioned why Atheists did not ask that question which is the central issue regarding the ritual of prayer, \To whom is this prayer to be addressed?\
In the midst of the Alabama fiasco and in response to our press releases we received many communications via e-mail regarding our position on the issue. I have chosen one which to me represents a concise composite of the majority of questions sent to the offices of American Atheists regarding prayer in public places. It goes like this: \Come on you guys (and gals)! What's wrong with a few harmless prayers in courtrooms or classrooms? Isn't it simply one's freedom of speech?\
First let us consider exactly what is meant by prayers, let alone the \harmless\ variety. Prayer, if it is to be considered in its most commonly accepted concept, i.e., communication with a perceived power, carries with it certain theological baggage from which it cannot be distanced. The following preconditions, or presuppositions, must be part of one's mental state before undertaking such an activity. You must be mentally pliable and sufficiently submissive to accept the following statements without any degree of skepticism whatsoever:
(1) There is a self-conscious, self-aware, determinate being responsible for the creation and maintenance of the cosmos and all life within it. This being is also capable of manipulating our thoughts and influencing our actions and ultimately is responsible for the fate of each and everyone one of us.
(2) This being is accessible twenty-four hours a day and access can be accomplished in any number of ways. In certain religions this can be accomplished through individual, direct, subjective communication. Most religions resort to organized gatherings through which a representative of that being is designated or appointed, i.e., a priest, mullah, rabbi, minister, etc., to act as a magnifier or conduit. This conduit, or channeler, can \funnel\ the collective needs of the congregants and, by virtue of special communicative status, can enhance the supplications by adding a certain degree of urgency to the matter. Many theists actually believe that this organized collective groan, funnelled through a magic man, is more beneficial than their own solo performances could be and will elicit a quick and favorable response to their supplications.
(3) This being not only can be communicated with but will, upon whim, actively and consciously decide which of the supplications it will grant and which it will deny. This takes into consideration that this being has the time to process literally millions of such individual supplications on a daily, if not hourly, basis. This being is also capable of suspending the laws of nature (as we understand them) in order to perform mighty feats of magic for the purposes of persuasion and to elicit expressions of awe, supplication, and - ultimately - slavish submission.
Taking the above three preconditions into consideration, the prayer debate takes on a new dimension which is overlooked in the media. The language which couches the debate utilizes religious euphemisms to disguise the actual agenda -which is to force people to pray. While everyone is discussing prayer in a cavalier and off-the-cuff manner, as if everyone is doing it, the issue of just what exactly is prayer is totally and completely ignored. This is intentional. Why? Let us dissect this divine communication called prayer just a little bit further.
Prayer can be performed in a variety of ways, from the most prosaic to the ornately elaborate. The arrangement of specific wording, phonetic inflection, choreography, special positioning of the physical body, volume, environment, special architecture, specific costuming, and unique literature all come into play. Some religious performers chant, mutter, yell, mumble quietly, wave their hands, kneel, genuflect, bow heads, raise eyes, convulse, babble incoherently, perform physical acts of self-debasement, indulge in the unethical treatment of animals and reptiles - the list goes on. One can only marvel at the variety of requirements necessary for those who wish to engage in such activity and similarly marvel at the tastes and requirements of the various deities supposedly involved. One must remember that in most religions, the deities themselves are alleged to have outlined just how they should be accessed.
The wording is usually arranged in such a way as to express unworthiness, emptiness, or being lost. One must also willingly submit to the idea that the uncertainties of life are so overwhelming, so devastating, that the need for assistance from this imaginary being twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week is positively and absolutely necessary. The simple act of existence is in itself dependent on this being's willful and conscious intent.
Prayers also consist of a fair amount of prerequest flattery. This flattery consists of demonstrating one's willing servitude to this being, its majesty, power, and control - that we are in debt to this being for the simple act of breathing. Following this disgusting display of self-debasement is the usual request for guidance, inspiration, and the direct involvement of this being in the supplicant's personal situation or its intervention in someone else's personal life according to the preferences of the supplicant.
Some religions refuse to pray in groups, while others cannot pray except in groups. Some religious adherents pray quietly, while others display hysteric exuberance. Still other religions pray privately and reverently, while others seek to exhibit Broadway-calibre entertainment spectacles for the sake of the unimpressed.
For any of the above to have any meaning one must on the basis of faith alone accede to the idea that this particular cult's deity is a reality. This calls for a willful act of intellectual submission. To Atheists this requirement is anathema and is incompatible with intellectual integrity. To simply submit to the concept that this deity is a functioning reality without submitting it to the rules of critical thinking and objective analysis that we apply to all other aspects of life is an act of intellectual suicide.
These acts, when considered in their individual roles, combine to create a mental environment which robs the human being of any purpose for living. Other than to satisfy the imagined wishes of this insatiable god and to go to any lengths to accomplish this goal, life itself is shallow and worthless.
While I am sure that many prayers do not comport entirely with these parameters, since the situation regarding the discussion of prayers in public buildings and during public events is expressly due to Christian insistence, I feel that it is safe to assume that we are discussing the Christian version of god. Therefore the above outline should be considered accurate.
If one does not believe in a god or in a different god, the question becomes, How do we take all of the above conditions, throw them into a great big prayer-blender, and come up with proper procedures and wording which could satisfy all of these conditions? If this task seems daunting to believers, what about the Atheist? Where does the idea that all of this is foolishness fit into the equation?
The question for Atheists is, How can one look upon all of this and come to the conclusion that it is harmless? It is our conclusion that all of the above is in fact harmful - very harmful and antithetical to Human Reason. Prayer, in the context described above, is conjuring. You are either summoning the assistance of spirits and hobgoblins, or in the Christian faith, contacting a specific dead person (whose erstwhile life on earth even is merely an allegation) and requesting his influence in certain events in ways which are beyond our comprehension and lay beyond the scope of our abilities.
Having stated the above how does the this situation affect our public schools, public courtrooms, public anywhere?