On this National Day of Prayer, I'm hearing a lot of talk about some legislator in Austin (capitol of Texas for all you soccer moms) who wants to mandate collective prayer in schools.
Now, when I was in elementary school, every morning we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and some kind of prayer that I can't remember. What I do remember is that, even at that young age, the prayer meant absolutely nothing to me. It was just something we said, along with the Pledge.
Today, my allegiance is with our nation, as a matter of personal choice - something I settled on years later. But the prayer is long forgotten.
I wonder what's going on in the mind of a lawmaker when he or she introduces a bill into Congress (I don't care if it's on a national level or what) that would make it mandatory for my non-Christian children (hypothetically) to pray with all the other, Christian and Jewish, etc, kids in their class.
My point is that I can't get behind such legislation, and here's why.
Let's say that a non-Christian child (let's say, oh, a little Hindu girl, an American, whose parents are Americans) walks into her classroom in the morning to find that all the other kids in her class are deep in prayer. The teacher has them all bowing their heads and reciting some Bible verse, as this is what prayer means to the teacher.
What it means to the children is that they bow their heads and giggle until it's over.
What happens to our little girl? Well, the way I envision it, she's directed by way of a silent nod from the teacher to sit quietly until the others are finished.
Is this really what we mean by religous tolerance? We're going to practice our religion to the exclusion of you? We say that we can tolerate you, little girl, but you're not really one of us? And what if this experience leaves a bad taste in the little girl's mouth about being a Hindu? This is what the religion of my family will get me? All I want to do is to fit in, so shouldn't I change religions?
And this in a country that brags so much about religous tolerance. One of the reasons we're mad at the Muslim extremists is because of their closed-minded religous views - but how open-minded, really, are we?
And speaking of this country and its religous tolerance, here's something that I think should (but won't) put the issue to rest. It's from the First Amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free excercise thereof..."
See, I believe that we as Americans have the moral responsibility to uphold each other's freedoms, which we call civil rights or human rights, even beyond the letter of the Constitution. I believe that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect each other's right to practice whatever religion we choose, even beyond the constitutional right involving what laws are made. And in this view, a National Day of Prayer sounds more and more like a National Day of Religous Oppression to me.