Food For Thought

Should God be Allowed to Attend Public School?
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Silence is golden” is a proverb that holds much truth. But it does not apply to September 11, 2001. The silence over my home, which is in the flight path of Dulles Airport, was not golden. It was a horrifying reminder of what had happened just a few hours earlier. The vicious terrorist attacks on the United States had silenced the lives of more than 5,000 people in the destruction of the World Trade Towers, Pentagon and four commercial airliners. All commercial and private airplanes were grounded to eliminate the possibility of more attacks using aircraft. The night sky on Tuesday had no twinkling lights moving over the horizon. The silence was not golden.

America and the world entered into numerous “moments of prayer and silence” to pay respect and seek guidance on how to react to this horrible act on mankind. Our cathedrals were open to all religions to join in paying homage to those who lost their lives. The reference to God was everywhere. People prayed on the streets. Congress prayed and sang God Bless America. The Mayor prayed. The President said that God is on our side. In masses at my own church I saw almost an entire congregation in tears when America the Beautiful was sung at the end of mass. I know I couldn’t get the words out, especially the verse containing the words, “Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears.”

It’s ironic that our enemies also claim that God is on their side. The attackers left behind instruction that included statements encouraging them to pray to their God before and during their terrorist mission. I couldn’t help thinking of last month’s article (www.co-opliving.com), which contained parts of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. One specific phrase in Lincoln’s speech said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” In times of great disaster it’s natural for people to seek God’s aid and guidance. It should be as natural to seek the same guidance during times of peace.

In God We Trust, Except in School

Why is seeking God’s help prohibited in the public-school environment but acceptable in almost every other public institution? I saw no visual indication of principals, administrators or school boards leading the students of this country in prayer. In St. Mary’s County, Maryland, a conflict arose over whether a flag poster with the words “God Bless America” could be legally displayed on school property. Many more school systems are having the same debate. I guess some will interpret policy to include forbidding students from singing America the Beautiful or God Bless America. How ridiculous have we become with our political correctness? Schools continue to fall back on one declarative sentence written into the constitution by our forefathers, which is designed to protect the citizens from a state-sponsored religion. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

There is nothing in the Constitution about separation of church and state. This is a classic example of the idea that if you repeat something often enough, it becomes fact. The Constitution reflects our forefathers’ desire to protect our citizens from a state-sponsored religion and not the need to eliminate religion from our everyday lives in order to accommodate the views of a few. We are a nation of tolerance, which means we tolerate the religious views of all, even those who have none. A moment of silence in schools is one way to permit students to practice their individual beliefs in the school setting. It inflicts no harm on any citizen, although we must be cautious of over-zealous interpretation and implementation.

I stated in last month’s article that we need to provide direction to the moment of silence in our schools. I suggest teachers post five names of the citizens who died in the attacks on the blackboard each day and ask students to remember and honor their lives. We especially need to remember the firefighters, police and other public servants who gave their lives. It would take more than eight years to remember everyone and be a constant reminder to all that freedom has its price.

Beyond a Moment of Silence

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: jbonfadi@gmu.edu, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

Beyond use of a moment of silence is the debate over the traditional reference to God in public places. Our elected leaders need to take a position and not hide behind some overly liberal interpretation of the First Amendment. It’s now time to allow the chosen God of every individual student back into the school environment. We seem to accommodate references to God in other public instructions. I’m certainly not a religious scholar; in fact, I consider myself to be the average church attendee. This country was founded based on a belief in God and a tolerance to permit all citizens to select their method of seeking His help. In a non-teaching way we need to accommodate religious expression in our public schools. Schools that promote eliminating the word God or reference to all documents that contain the word God are a national disgrace. Maybe we should eliminate all vending machines in schools that accept coins having the inscribed words “In God We Trust.” Students of all religions, including atheists, are carrying these words in their pockets without fear of indoctrination into any specific religion. A positive outcome of this disaster would be the reformation and need to seek guidance from a higher power.

Americans would never condone the religious tyranny exhibited by some nations of the world. We can thank the public school system for developing an educated populace, which is the foundation of our free society. We will be a much stronger free society when God is allowed to attend our schools. God Bless America.

 

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