December 10, 2003


The Ten Commandments Controversy (MICHAEL NOVAK)

[T]he main point in this case was the unique character of the Jewish and Christian God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus is unlike any other God known to the ancient religions of Greece, Rome or the Middle East, or any other religion known to our Founders. Uniquely, this God wishes to be worshiped in spirit and truth, in whatsoever manner conscience directs, without coercion of any sort. This God reads hearts, and is satisfied only with purity of conscience and conviction. Those who belong to any other religion or tradition, or who count themselves among agnostics or atheists, are thereby given by this God equal freedom. They, too, must follow their individual consciences. This God wishes to be worshiped by men and women who are free, not under duress. Arising from His sovereignty, the rights He endows cannot be abrogated by a tyrannical majority among the people, or by the actions of the state in any of its branches.

This conception of religious liberty is spelled out directly in the founding-era documents mentioned above. For example, the Virginia Declaration of Rights affirms that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

This summarizes the classic American definition of religion and the foundation for religious liberty. To this definition, some make one or more objections. For instance, some point out that Christians (and Jews) have not always respected this principle, and thus try to discredit its Jewish and Christian origins. But human failure is no argument against the principle; human weakness is measured by it.

Second, one can say (as did Judge Thompson) that among Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others there have been examples of generations of “tolerance.” But tolerance is a different (and less profound) concept than the right to religious liberty. Tolerance may arise merely from a temporary lack of power to enforce conformity; it does not by itself invoke a natural right. The concept of religious liberty, on the other hand, depends upon a particular conception of God, a particular conception of the human person, and a particular conception of liberty. Reaching these conceptions took Jews and Christians many centuries. They had to be learned through failure and sin and error, and at great cost. But they were eventually learned.

Scholars today can easily point to texts in the American tradition for definitions of these concepts, but they would find it difficult to locate analogous texts in other traditions. Rightly did the authors of Federalist 14 call attention to their own originality, even as they exerted themselves to pay due respect to the opinions of past ages. For this reason, calling the attention of the public to the Jewish and Christian conception of God’s sovereignty, which grounds the principle of religious liberty, is not necessarily the same as “establishing” the Jewish or Christian religions.

In the first place, this conception is by its very nature public, not private, and has historically been invoked in the practice of existing public institutions in countless forms. The public life of our nation has been and is still remarkably religious, as is visible on public occasions such as the inaugural speeches of presidents, the swearing-in of judges, Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day. The notion that the foundation of our rights lies in God’s work has been officially deployed in many congressional and presidential decrees and proclamations, which recommend religious observances such as fasting, prayers, thanksgiving and imploring pardon for the nation’s sins.

In the second place, the principle of religious liberty (as witnessed to in countless founding documents and in the public practices of the founding era) requires two courses of action: First, one must enunciate the principle clearly, understand it fully, and express it publicly for public guidance. Second, one must not coerce the conscience nor obstruct the free exercise of religion of any.

The specifically American principle of religious liberty, in and of itself, demands that each person’s decision about how (if at all) to worship God is inalienable, for it belongs to each alone in his or her own conscience. Everyone must be free in conscience and in public exercise to accept, or to reject, the Judeo-Christian God. Even if unbelievers choose not to recognize this conception of God, conscience and liberty, but rather to concentrate upon abuses of the principle committed by Christians or others, this particular conception guarantees their freedom of conscience. It is also precious for believers, who are obliged by it to grant to all others exactly the same right to religious liberty that they claim for themselves. [...]

It is the special virtue of the Jewish and Christian conception of God that it allows us to make a twofold claim: to recognize in public the beliefs on which our rights are founded, and to refuse to mandate for others that they must hold the same beliefs. Thus we should be counted free to call public attention to the moral foundation of our rights, without by the same deed trying to force Jewish or Christian belief upon Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, or anyone else.

Which would appear to be the point at which practice has run up against ideology, as some misuse those rights to insist that the beliefs not be recognized as the basis for the rights, thereby putting them and the entire moral foundation at risk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2003 8:26 PM

In my Bible, God uses coercion. I don't know which one Novak reads.

Furthermore, in my Old Testament, God does not give a hoot in a holler whether people like me worship him or not. I am not a Hebrew.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 10, 2003 9:15 PM

That's not exactly correct, Harry. G-d gave Noah seven commandments to be followed by all people.

"Seven commandments were the sons of Noah commanded: (1) concerning adjudication, (2) and concerning idolatry, (3) and concerning blasphemy, (4) and concerning sexual immorality, (5) and concerning bloodshed, (6) and concerning robbery, (7) and concerning a limb torn from a living animal."

The Seventh was, by the way, not to eat the limb of a living animal.

These "Noahide Laws" are the bedrock upon which our nation was founded. Who says so? The Congress says so, in H.J.Res. 102-14, 105 Stat. 44, passed by both Houses and signed by the President:

Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded;

Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws;

Whereas without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos;

Whereas society is profoundly concerned with the recent weakening of these principles that has resulted in crises that beleaguer and threaten the fabric of civilized society;

Whereas the justified preoccupation with these crises must not let the citizens of this Nation lose sight of their responsibility to transmit these historical ethical values from our distinguished past to the generations of the future;

Whereas the Lubavitch movement has fostered and promoted these ethical values and principles throughout the world;

Whereas Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Lubavitch movement, is universally respected and revered and his eighty-ninth birthday falls on March 26, 1991;

Whereas in tribute to this great spiritual leader, `the rebbe', this, his ninetieth year will be seen as one of `education and giving', the year in which we turn to education and charity to return the world to the moral and ethical values contained in the Seven Noahide Laws; and

Whereas this will be reflected in an international scroll of honor signed by the President of the United States and other heads of state: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That March 26, 1991, the start of the ninetieth year of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, leader of the worldwide Lubavitch movement, is designated as `Education Day, U.S.A.'.

The President is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe such day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 10, 2003 10:55 PM

Yeah, and the same people apologized for overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom, and your favorite recent president signed it, but we don't take it seriously, do we?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 10, 2003 11:08 PM

If compulsion in the public exercise of religious practice was denied in principle, why were schools allowed to compel prayer from believers and non-believers alike until the early 1960s?

Posted by: Robert D at December 10, 2003 11:39 PM

"Whereas without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos"

Are we really in danger of descending into a frenzy of live animal eating for not acknowledging these principles? Has this really been a problem?

Posted by: Robert D at December 10, 2003 11:42 PM

They weren't compelling non-believers, they were compelling students to pray.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2003 11:44 PM


Cannibalism seems the bigger problem.

Posted by: oj at December 10, 2003 11:47 PM

And the value of a compelled prayer would be what, exactly?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 11, 2003 2:08 AM

Let me interject a few comments. Unlike a great many of the world's scriptures, the Bible is manifestly a work "in" history. It is a book of progressive revelation, of a very long and impassioned conversation between God and man. This is not a slur on other scriptures, but rather the set-up for the next point.

Next, there is no religious body on earth that regards the Old Testament as a complete and independent authoritative text. Jews believe it must be supplemented by the Oral Law, and Christians believe it has been fulfilled and made complete with the New Testament (primarily through the work and person of Jesus).

And there is no place in the New Testament where Christians are given license to use force to convert others. No "go ye therefore with swords and chains and force ye baptism upon all nations." Quite a bit to the contrary.

All in all we got ourselves a pretty good religion here and I for one am glad to be part of it.

Posted by: R.W. at December 11, 2003 2:31 AM

Holy pickled herring.

I thought the Lubavitcher Rebbe was only the messiah. I never realized he was also a founding father....

(Wait til Frank Gaffney finds out about this!...)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 11, 2003 4:47 AM


It creates a structured part of the day in which students recognize their culture, their obligations, and their debts.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 8:26 AM

Hmmm...we used to have to pray at morning assembly at my school. Which is to say, we used to have to stand quietly with our heads bowed and at least look like we were praying.

i rather fear i used to spend the time not so much in thinking about my obligations, but more in fantasising about scoring the winning goal for england in the world cup final, or planning imaginative sexual trysts with the head girl and a few of her friends.

perhaps that was just me though, eh.

Posted by: Brit at December 11, 2003 8:39 AM

Well, I've never fantasized about scoring the winning goal for England.

What public school praying did was of a piece with the overall purpose of public school. It enforced social conformity.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 8:53 AM

Harry --

Apologize for it? I think Congress should have inserted a clause in the admitting statute thanking themselves for it on behalf of a grateful populace.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 8:54 AM

Who knew the British even played hockey?

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 9:03 AM


of course we play hockey. only we play it in the correct manner: on grass.

and like all the world's best games, we invented it, so naah!

Posted by: Brit at December 11, 2003 9:08 AM

Still, and in all seriousness, I think those are wonderful (creditable?) things to be "praying" for.

To be sure, there are those who might scoff at the aforementioned subjects; but I'm all for the "prayer is like a muscle" school. That is, it takes time and effort to develop the skills, etc.... (Kind of like football, actually. Or dating, for that matter.)

"More perspiration that inspiration"; "fake it 'til you make it"; you get the idea....

At least you were given the opportunity to wonder what the heck you were supposed to be doing. It's a lot more than many are given.

Though if you prefer calling it "meditation," no skin of my back.

(Gee, I suppose I've burned my bridges.... Well, at the very least, I ought to get the "Cliche Meister of the Week" award....)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 11, 2003 9:18 AM

Bad enough none of you can throw overhand, but the hockey in skirts is deeply disturbing.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 9:32 AM


I appreciate we're digressing somewhat from the main thrust of this debate, but really, as a proud Englishman i refuse to take any criticism about sport from an American cousin...

Real hockey involves mud, blood, flailing wooden sticks, no protective clothing and yes, short trousers.

None of that ridiculous Canadian version on ice, where you spend half the time sliding on your arse, and the other half engaging in laughably soft pat-a-cake 'fights' beneath ten layers of protective padding.

What's more, our field hockey is the most genteel, English member of the Celtic hockey family. Shinty (Scotland) and Hurling (Ireland) impose absolutely no rules about swinging the stick around one's head, and if there are not at least 3 people unconscious by the end of the game, and 5 or 6 more with broken noses, it is considered very poor sport indeed.

I've also taken the liberty of posting a reply to your ridiculous thoughts on football (soccer) under your review 'All humour is conservative', which you may wish to peep at.

Posted by: Brit at December 11, 2003 10:14 AM

Irishmen with clubs is a sport. Brits in skirts is a Monty Python skit. Soccer is for boys who are too uncoordinated to catch a thrown ball and too french to throw it overhand.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 10:25 AM

What's this obsession with skirts? Are you, in fact, thinking of a Monty Python sketch?

skirts are strictly for the ladies and the scottish.

and what's more: talented boys play cricket in the summer (which involves a lot of overhand throwing - we probably invented that as well) and football in the winter.

those too uncoordinated to play football play rugby if they're big and thuggish, and if they're small and soft, rounders with the girls.

rounders, incidentally, is called something else in the US....

so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Posted by: OJ at December 11, 2003 10:34 AM


One thing we're not good at however is getting our pseudonyms right.

The above post is of course aimed at OJ, not by him.

Posted by: Brit at December 11, 2003 10:35 AM

Well, David and OJ, your replies confirmed my suspicion that your principles regarding freedom of religion are not worth the pixels they are written on. You could make big bucks advising Bill Clinton on parsing and creative semantics.

Posted by: Robert D at December 11, 2003 12:07 PM


Don't you have to wear a skirt when you play field hockey?

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 12:39 PM


We're describing religious freedom as it was understood by the Founders and all succeeeding generations until a handful of justices changed it in '62. You're talking about a vision imposed by antireligious elites and enduring for only a few bad decades. Time to return to first principles.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 12:42 PM

The first principle being, apparently, complete religious freedom for the faithful.

And no one else.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 11, 2003 1:21 PM

Yes, freedom to observe your religion not freedom from contact with religion is the primary founding principle of America.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 1:26 PM

Barry, your muscular religion theory didn't work with me.

I attended Mass to begin every school day for 10 years. We prayed to begin each new class. We did novenas, rosaries, adorations of the Sacred Heart, processions, Stations of the Cross.

I had lots and lots of time to reflect upon it, and I realized it was like Oakland. No there there.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 11, 2003 1:38 PM

Whether it is said by the Founders or Novak or you, it is still dishonest to say that there
shall be no compulsion in religious expression if you don't mean it. If you believe that the state must compel prayer to enforce community standards, fine, just don't couch it in a lie by saying you are against religious compulsion and for religious freedom.

The Founders were not gods, they professed the ideal of the equality of man while they held slaves. We are bound to be governed by what they wrote in the consitution, not by the contradictory ways in which they applied those constitutional principles to their own society. If they meant to compel religious expression in order to preserve community standards, it was pretty foolish of them to insert a free expression clause into the Constitution, wasn't it? Ya gotta read stuff before you sign it.

The '62 decision basically took them at their word that they intended for religious expression to be free. Free means without compulsion, period.

Posted by: Robert D at December 11, 2003 1:46 PM



I was only making the commonplace lefty observation that the point of public education is enforcing social conformity. Kids learn to show up on time, dress properly, speak properly, learn their history and the common culture. I only differ from the left in that I'm all for it: it think that it is required in a nation of immigrants. Religion plays a similar role in inculcating the basics habits of civil society: don't murder, don't steal, obey the law, respect authority and don't speak inappropriately loud. It shouldn't be surprising that these two important institutions overlap.

Now, as Harry points out, from a religious point of view, publicly compelled prayer is useless, and a compulsory oath is odious. Both may be evaded. But that has nothing to do with teaching children to respect the forms of civilized society.

None of this has much to do with religious freedom. Believe or disbelieve anything you want, it's none of the government's business.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 1:49 PM

Yet there is an Oakland.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 1:52 PM

By the way, I'm not arguing for compulsory prayer, I just understand the point of it and that it was by no means as silly as it's made out to be. There's no doubt that it is incompatible with modern constitutional law.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 1:56 PM


You're conflating two different things. We can set aside time for kids to pray, but let the unbelievers enter class late or go hang in the coat room or whatever. Atheism just wasn't a problem in the past.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 1:57 PM

And it isn't a problem today, either.

The socialization part could be equally well performed by reciting the Pledge and reading something uplifting from McGuffey.

Your wishywashy prayer sessions might accomplish what you want for the poor immigrants, though I doubt it; but at the cost of bringing derision and shame on religion for being -- well, for being unAmerican.

My kids' drama teacher used to send the kids onto the stage, at least on opening night, with a little non-sectarian but more or less Christian attaboy. Borderline acceptable, but not something I ever complained about, because the whole package she was delivering was admirable.

An exclusionary prayer -- and that's the kind we get -- does not enhance the whole package, whatever you may think. Some of the nastiest moments in my life have been listening to Southern Baptists revile people in the guise of common prayer.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 11, 2003 4:15 PM

Athiesm is not a problem now.

Thanks for the clarification, I am glad that you see that compulsory prayer is not constitutional now. I am all for teaching norms of civilized behavior, but this can be done in a religious free context. Norms are just that - its the way we do things. You can tell kids "we don't kill and we don't steal" without having to delve into the theological basis for it. Let the parents and the Sunday schools do that. We can be a society with common behavioral norms AND diverse religious backgrounds.

OJ again,
Prior to the 62 decision, schools could and did coerce all students into reciting prayers, banishing the heathens to the cloak room wasn't an option. You must at least concede that such laws were wrong if you believe that coercion of expression is wrong. All I hear the social conservatives do is moan about how those court decisions took God out of the classroom, I never hear any of them qualify their complaints with proviso that schools shouldn't have been compelling prayer.

Posted by: Robert D at December 11, 2003 4:24 PM

Maybe it's just me, but upon being told "You don't want Jimmy to murder you, so you shouldn't murder Jimmy" isn't the natural first thought, "Then I'd better get there first"?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 4:59 PM


Atheism is a problem because they're the ones who complain about their kids participating. I don't mind coercive expression, but leaving the room is an acceptable alternative.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 5:23 PM

Well, I would find it hard to instill a sense of right & wrong in children by telling them a story about God asking someone to burn their child on an altar.

But as far as killing the other guy first, it doesn't help to tell them that all they have to do is believe that they will be forgiven.

Posted by: Robert D at December 11, 2003 7:50 PM

Let's get real. These prayers are not the Doxology.

I've had 'em prayed at me, and they are vile. They tell young children that they're going to hell if they don't believe the weird doctrines of the Primitive Baptist Church. Doctrines so foul and inhuman that Orrin doesn't accept them.

However, if I were a religionist, I guess I'd prefer a good, robust, hate-filled, antisocial, Jon Edwards-style diatribe to the milk-and-water handwaving that seems to be the goal of the modern Christians.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 11, 2003 8:07 PM

1. "You must respect Jimmy's individualness."

2. "If you're bad, G-d will tell your father to burn you on an alter and he will."

I know what I want your kids told.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 9:17 PM

Harry --

Can you point us to any samples?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 9:18 PM

Religionists can pray as much as they want, whenever they want. There is nothing about prayer that requires it be a group, public exercise.

The entire point of school prayer is a poke in the eyes of those who can do just as well without it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 11, 2003 9:27 PM

Jeff --

I assume you meant "compulsory school prayer" in your post. Otherwise, you're implying that you have the right to shut down other people's prayers just because you find it offensive.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 11, 2003 10:32 PM

"Cannibalism seems the bigger problem" oj

Well, how does it help to discourage cannibalism when the most infamous cannibal of the last 100 years, Jeffrey Dahmer, is now basking in Heavenly paradise thanks to the doctrine of Salvation by Faith Alone? My biggest problem with Protestant Christianity is that it sets the bar for salvation incredibly low. If Jeffrey Dahmer can acheive salvation, who can't? Where is the incentive to act morally when you can be forgiven anything as long as you believe?

Posted by: Robert D at December 11, 2003 10:37 PM


You didn't teach your kids that they had to submit to your wishes even when they didn't understand them?

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 10:40 PM


People prayed in school every day for hundreds of years than your kind got it stopped. Who's poking?

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 11:09 PM

Jeffrey Dahmer was sick, not evil.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2003 11:10 PM

Because he didn't know any better?

Come on, the result of 'sickness' like that is evil: from John Wayne Gacy to John Hinckley. Sickness like that (unknown and unbound) doesn't just stop with killing animals and teenage pranks.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 12, 2003 12:21 AM


Hinckley was certainly sick rather than evil. Gacy was much different than Dahmer. I once heard the great profiler John Douglas say that Dahmer was one of the only guys he ever studied who he felt genuine sympathy for--that Dahmer was tortured by what he did, wanted to be stopped, never excused it, begged to be put away so that he'd never do it again, but knew he would do it if released, etc. It seems to me he was sick.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2003 12:48 AM

I must admit that my experience with prayer has nothing to do with sending anyone to hell or suffering brimstone and fire. (As far as I'm concerned, a rather large part of prayer is giving thanks, though of course, that's not the whole story either).

So I guess I`m religiously challenged on those particular "finer" points.

And I suppose wanting to leave something like that behind might be understandable.

On the other hand, can't the finer, more uplifting aspects of it all be salvaged? Or is it a complete package deal, all or nothing?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 12, 2003 2:23 AM


So hostile have our house secularists become to religion that they can't distinguish prayer from sticking pins in voodoo dolls. Remember, all the modern practices and theologies are just flimsy covers of our eternal, immutable compulsion to burn witches and slaughter other faiths. Menace and unredeemed evil lurks in the simplest Thanksgiving dinner grace. Thank goodness enlightened lawyers are on standby.

Posted by: Peter B at December 12, 2003 4:39 AM

The bar for salvation is low enough that the thief on the cross was promised Paradise, but high enough that the messiah had to hang next to him in order to make that promise.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 12, 2003 8:54 AM

I think that the finer, more uplifting aspects can be salvaged, but it is the opinion of our house theologians that it is a package deal. You can't separate morality from God in their view. There is no morality without the brimstone.

My point about Dahmer and Salvation by Faith is to point out how the whole fear of brimstone argument is an empty argument anyhow. Under Protestant theology, salvation has been totally de-coupled from behavior, there is no real incentive to act morally, only the imperative to believe. The fact that Protestants, for the most part, continue to behave as if morality counts just proves my argument that morality isn't derived from philosophy or religious conviction, but as PJ put it, is "written in our hearts".

Posted by: Robert D at December 12, 2003 10:32 AM


If knowing good from evil were sufficient to make us good we'd be gods, not humans. No one believes that to be the case except folks like Harry anmd Jeff who say they don't ever do evil acts because if they knew they were evil they wouldn't do them.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2003 10:37 AM

Agreed, so what is your point? How does school prayer address this dilemma?

Posted by: Robert D at December 12, 2003 12:59 PM


You must be reading a different NT - James said faith without works is dead; Jesus himself repeatedly rebuked people who move their lips but do nothing with their hearts; and Paul basically told the early church that if someone's life doesn't change after a claim of conversion, throw the bum out. Motives and actions count more than words any day.

For the most part, the modern church ignores this: it wants to soothe, to accomodate, and to raise money. Harry's version of the brimstone hurlers is probably 20 years and more out of date. But there is a tremendous difference between the visible church (all the people sitting in the pews on any given Sunday) and the invisible church (the saints who are listening and following with their hearts).

If you are talking about conscience ('the morality written on our hearts'), that is just a first step - the conscience can tell us we are in trouble, but it cannot make us whole. More detail is needed.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 12, 2003 1:01 PM

Yes, I meant compulsory prayer. That includes prayer in public settings where some obvious physical action must take place to avoid it.

Gee, I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was impossible for kids to pray in school. You have kids, don't you? During which part of the school day are they prohibited from praying?

I hope they, or you, aren't too disappointed that in-your-face prayer, however, is no longer part of the curriculum.

While visiting friends a dozen years ago, I got invited to go to church. Wanting to be a good guest, I unreservedly agreed.

It was a Baptist church in California. I don't know what has changed since then, but in that time and place, the brimstone hurlers were on vivid display.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 12, 2003 6:55 PM

That which is easily avoided is not compulsory.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2003 7:47 PM


There are parts of CA so conservative they make the South look cosmopolitan.

Brimstone hurling is an old sport - but I have found it leaves the practitioners in pretty flabby theological shape. And it usually doesn't help the hearers, either.

However, it is interesting to note that Jesus talked far more about hell than he did about heaven, although mostly when he was speaking to the elitist brimstone boys of his time.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 12, 2003 9:17 PM

You are right. Not compulsory.

But certainly coercive.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 12, 2003 10:11 PM

No one has a right to be free from social coercion.

Posted by: oj at December 12, 2003 10:16 PM

Unless the Constitution has this little thing about freedom of religion, which is meaningless without freedom from religion.

Then there is the little matter of drawing a line between coercive and compulsory. You might draw the line at getting expelled from school if one refuses to pray. Someone else might draw the line at the suspicion the English teacher will adjust grades accordingly for those who do not pray.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 13, 2003 6:54 AM


See our prior discussion of the Do Not Call List for the silliness of a civil rights of being free "from" the exercise of the rights of others.

Posted by: oj at December 13, 2003 7:21 AM

I apologize for my ignorance. Please explain to me how current laws prohibit the faithful from praying anytime they like.

And while you are at it, please explain how the ability to hang up on a telemarketer is the same as the inability to hang up on overt, organized prayer in school.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 13, 2003 5:42 PM

Most children, administrators and teachers in most schools would like a set prayer time--y'all try to forbid it. In much the same way, you had argued you should be allowed to forbid phone calls.

Posted by: oj at December 13, 2003 5:48 PM

If they can pray anytime they like, why do they need to set a prayer time? What possible purpose could be served by doing so?

The issue of phone calls is entirely different. For one, it is hypothetically possible for there to be so many telemarketers calling so persistently as to render my phone useless for its very intended purpose.

Like, for instance, my wife calling to tell me the car is broken down and she is stranded.

Now, I agree that, on balance, and absent an extreme hypothetical, it appears there is not a constitutional argument to be made against telemarketers, or others wanting to contact me. After all, they can't exercise their freedom of speech if I don't at least give them the opportunity to talk.

However, the faithfuls' ability to pray, or the meaningfulness of that prayer, is not impeded in any way by others not participating.

That is a substantial difference, is it not?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 13, 2003 10:42 PM

David, the prayers I object to are not those composed by divines with one eye to eventual publication in the Reader's Digest. They are extempore compilations of a stock of tropes.

Jim is flat wrong when he says the brimstone hurlers are extinct or only in the remoter parts of So. Calif. I've been in a school room when Assembly of God prayers threatened anyone in the room who didn't subscribe to their vile ideas with the raging fires of hell. The room included quite a few Buddhists and Catholics and at least one atheist.

So, Barry, I see nothing in principle that would preserve the good parts (if any) of prayer and expunge the bad, but I've been listening to prayers for almost six decades now, and they're just as vile, hateful and inhuman in 2003 as in 1953.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 13, 2003 11:56 PM


They don't have to, they wish to, and they have a Constitutionally mandated right to do so. Others, as you say, may choose not to participate. They can leave. What's the problem?

Posted by: oj at December 14, 2003 12:42 AM

The problem is obvious. The minority may well face various, significant penalties for making their beliefs known. So they can leave, but if the teacher happens to be an Assembly of God congregant, they could well pay dearly in other areas having nothing to do with religion. Like the grades on their classwork, for instance.

That means one group of believers is more free to pursue their religious beliefs than another group.

That's the problem.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2003 8:40 AM

Facing opprobrium for your beliefs is not a "problem", but the essence of freedom of thought. Ideas should have consequences.

Posted by: OJ at December 14, 2003 9:00 AM

The essence of freedom of religion requirese not promoting the freedom of one group at the expense of others. Particularly when one group is imposing costs on the others. Freedom of religion is not point of view dependent, unless there are some words in the First Amendment you can see that the rest of us can't.

Ideas are ideas. Actions have consequences.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2003 10:56 AM

Freedom should be cost free? How trivial you think it.

Of course, by that standard every form of freedom imposes on someone and all should be banned.

Posted by: OJ at December 14, 2003 11:05 AM

No. Freedom of religion is meaningless if the members of a specific, government favored, sect get to impose costs on members of other sects when the institutions of government are exacting the costs (Assembly of God teacher using position of authority to impose costs on a Jewish student).

Otherwise, I take it you are in favor of a government funded university English department demanding all members of the department listen to readings from for five minutes a day.

Of course, one could leave. At the expense of tenure.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2003 11:17 AM


I have no problem with an employer requiring things of their employees with which I might disagree--you have no right to get tenure at the university of your choice. I had to take a course at Colgate with a Marxist professor (it was a core requirement). He spoke. I disagreed. That's how freedom works.

Posted by: OJ at December 14, 2003 11:56 AM

If the employer is the government, then you have a problem.

At public schools, the employer is the government.

Perhaps you would have a problem if one condition of employment at the public high school as an English teacher would be listening to readings from every morning.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2003 3:53 PM

Life, as Jimmy Carter was condemned from all sides for saying, isn't fair. We can either celebrate that, as Orrin does, but only when he's the overdog; or complain and try to make it more fair.

I may be a little unfair to Orrin. He has stated that he could conform to Christian religious practices in the South that he, apparently, has no confidence in. But he says that from New Hampshire.

It's noticeable that people who argue that arbitrary discrimination isn't really serious are always the people who are not being discriminated against.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 14, 2003 3:59 PM


We require them to get Education degress, which given the state of the Academy is akin to having them listen to Big deal. Don't like it--get a different job.

Posted by: OJ at December 14, 2003 4:07 PM


Everyone's been a victim of discrimination--human beings are discriminatory. You can bitch about it or get on with your life.

Posted by: OJ at December 14, 2003 4:11 PM

That's all well and good. You can't tell students to get a different school.

Didn't Jesus have something to say about ostentatious prayer?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2003 8:46 PM

Or change it. My grandfather risked his life to establish that, at least in Dalton, Ga., you couldn't just discriminate against black men (by burning their houses down around them), and it happened a lot less after he protested.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 14, 2003 9:01 PM
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