Time and again I hear the claim that the loss of prayer in our public schools was the first omen of the disintegration of American society, a portent of future decadence and inevitable chaos. When I hear such sentiments, I appreciate the ardor of the speaker’s faith, but I disagree with the argument. Keeping religion out of government and its agencies such as schools does not weaken this nation. The separation of church and state is among our best defenses against enemies both foreign and domestic.
When I was a child, I asked my mom why prayer had been taken out of public schools. She told me, “Who would choose which prayers will be taught? There is no guarantee that Christians will always be in the majority. Would you want your future children or grandchildren to go to a school where they must say that Jesus was just a prophet or that Buddha is a god?”
I am a Christian, but I believe that I would do wrong by my faith and this country by insisting that my religion inform our laws. Once religion becomes part of a government power structure, religious freedom becomes vulnerable to the whim of the changing electorate, and that electorate could vote away some of its freedom or security. Think of all the dysfunctional regimes who were powered in part by the restriction of religious freedom. Here are just a few of them: the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the Taliban and now ISIS.
Adding a religion to government may seem to be a win-win situation, especially when that religion values compassion and the sanctity of life. In practice, we have imperfect people picking and choosing which fragments of that religion to uphold. People have tried to use the Bible to justify all sorts of cruelty, like homophobia, sexism and capital punishment. Whatever happened to “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”(Matthew 7:1)?
There is no promise that Christianity will hold the majority into our country’s future, and majority does matter in a democracy like ours. I don’t want to imagine how another religion could be used to justify oppression, and I do not need to tap into my imagination in this regard. Just think of how ISIS is using an extreme caricature of Islam to justify all manner of atrocities.