What Fresh Hell Is This?

June 7, 2011

Ruth Ann's Prayer

Let me start off by saying that I like Ruth Ann Dailey. She's a very nice person, very smart, good writer and when she writes about music she's almost always gets it right.

But when she writes about graduation prayers, as she did this week, she gets it wrong. She shaded her arguments just enough them to qualify as a "straw man" argument.

Here's what she did. Her opening paragraphs:
Here's how the annual American fight over public school prayer played out this year:

In late May an agnostic family in a suburb of San Antonio, Texas, sued to remove the invocation and benediction from Medina Valley High School's graduation ceremony. Their lawsuit, filed with the help of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, claimed the prayers would force their son to participate in religious activities.

Last Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in their favor, saying that formal prayers would make it seem that the school was "sponsoring a religion."

On Wednesday the state attorney general asked a federal appeals court to overturn the decision.

On Thursday the school's valedictorian filed a lawsuit, with the help of the pro-faith and limited-government Liberty Institute, to reinstate and lead the ceremonial prayers.

On Friday the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in and reversed the lower court's ban on prayer.
Ooo. She was sooo close! But the lower court did not issue a "ban on prayer." And the higher court did not "reverse" it, either.

Here's the lower court's ruling. The issue here is not prayer but official prayer. The ruling took out the words "Benediction" and "Invocation" from the program. It also instructed the students chosen to give what would have been them to be "statements of their own beliefs" rather than instructing those assembled in prayer.

That agnostic family was challenging the idea that they'd be told to pray at that graduation. The students giving speeches were free (as they always are) "to state their own personal beliefs" during the ceremony. They could give the sign of the cross, for example. Or kneel to Mecca, if they wished.

They just couldn't tell the crowd to pray.

And the upper court's ruling didn't reverse the lower court as much as dissolve its temporary restraining order and and preliminary injunction remand it to district court for further proceedings.

The upper court noted that "Benediction" and "Invocation" were removed from the program.

Now compare that to the prayer that takes up the rest of her column. She introduces it with:
Since the issue is likely to flare up again next year and to feature immaturity all the way around, here's an all-purpose speech for the prayer-minded class leader. It can be easily adapted to suit whatever the last court ruling might be.
And ends it with:
Despite the acrimonious lawsuit that preceded today's event, if I were allowed to offer a prayer, I would echo Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address -- 'With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds ...'

"Or we could stop wounding one another and just grow up. That would be my prayer today, if I were allowed to pray.
But the students in Medina Texas were allowed to pray.

They just shouldn't be allowed to force anyone else to pray.

And that's where Ruth Ann gets it wrong.

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

Good post. You know, there's no doubt that the US is culturally largely a Christian nation (in the "big religion" sense). But what Ruth Ann misses is that even if the US is largely a Christian nation, what maybe makes the US different from other countries that have dominant religions or ideologies (like Iran, North Korea and Communist China) is that the US wants to be tolerant of other beliefs, or even of no belief at all. Maybe, just maybe, that idea of tolerance came from the teachings in the gospels, and the Founding Fathers were smart enough to embrace the idea (even if Ruth Ann ain't).