The Guardian, a Progressive publication, went into five-alarm fire mode in an article after the Supreme Court’s June 27th decision on the Kennedy v. Bremerton case involving school prayer.
Not school prayer exactly, but loosely-organized prayer on the 50-yard line on a high school football field at the conclusion of the game.
The writer of the Guardian piece was Moira Donegan. Her accompanying photo shows a frowning (angry?) millennial with short, Dorothy Parker-style dark hair, dressed in a black leather jacket.
“On Monday, the United States supreme court overturned decades of precedent governing the separation of church and state, and achieved one of the most long-standing goals of the Christian right: the return of official Christian prayer to public schools.”
In my case, being half-Irish makes you pay attention to Irish-sounding names, especially in the world of journalism. This “attention” has made me realize that there are no journalists in 2022 more radical than Irish journalists. It’s as if the anti-religious revolution that succeeded in throwing Ireland back to its pre-Saint Patrick pagan days had somehow put snake venom into the veins of every young Irish journalist under 35. Many of these journalists have a propensity to push the envelope as far left as possible.
Donegan, for instance, warns: “Students now face the prospect of their schools becoming sites of religious pressure and indoctrination.”
That sentence, of course, ignores the most obvious question: Why doesn’t Donegan object to the Left’s “pressure and indoctrination” in schools when it comes to the fine points of progressive orthodoxy? (Answer: the Left objects to “Indoctrination” only when it is religious in nature.)
Donegan firmly condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of football coach Joseph Kennedy, who lost his job after the school where he worked told him to stop praying at the 50-yard line with players and fans after the game.
The prayer sessions on the field, according to Kennedy’s superiors, were becoming too popular and causing too much mayhem—not BLM-style riots, mind you, but generating too much fervor and shouts of “Hallhjuah.”
Kennedy’s enemies also insisted that players not naturally inclined to join the praying group were feeling tremendous social pressures to do so, as if any action that generates social pressure constitutes a crime. (The Left of course would never agree that the social pressure among many young teenage girls to become “trans” or adopt strange pronouns is poisonous.)
The Court’s pro-prayer decision was too much for leftists who were still in shock mode after the Roe v Wade decision less than a week before. For the Left, not only was the sky falling but Chicken Little was taking a tumble along with the moon and the stars.
“Worst Fourth of July ever!” wrote angry progressives on Facebook. “Women and atheists should not be celebrating this so-called Independence Day,” etc.
For many of these people, of course, God is a myth and prayer is a crutch and an opiate of sorts. In bumper sticker logic: Prayer = Supreme Being = Patriarchy at its most patriarchal.
The Los Angeles Times condemned the Court’s siding with Coach Kennedy while joyfully reporting that, “Nearly 30% of American adults don’t identify with any religion at all, up by more than 10 percentage points over a decade ago. The percentage of those identifying as Christian fell accordingly.”
VOX, an equally liberal publication, obsessed on how students at Kennedy’s school were feeling tremendous social pressure to join the 50-yard line prayer group:
“After games, Kennedy would also walk out to the 50-yard line, where he would kneel and pray in front of students and spectators. Initially, he did so alone, but after a few games students started to join him — eventually, a majority of his players did so. One parent complained to the school district that his son ‘felt compelled to participate,’ despite being an atheist, because the student feared ‘he wouldn’t get to play as much if he didn’t participate.’”
The phrase “despite being an atheist” hints at something else going on in the student’s head, while the father’s description of his son “feeling compelled” has more to do with his son’s personality and nothing to do with “coercion.”
Whether the Court takes up the broader issue of prayer in public schools at a future date and re-establishes what public school “prayer” life was like in 1960 is impossible to know.
If it happens, would it really be such a bad thing?
In 1960, students in most public high schools recited a version of The Lord’s Prayer and read a short passage from the Old or New Testament. This often presented a quandary for Catholic students, who subscribed to the Douay Rheims version of the Bible, not the Protestant King James version.
Catholic students often had to ask to be excused from reading the King James Bible. But opting out of reading the King James Bible came with a slight risk of social ostracism. To be perceived as “different” in the high school world of teenage conformity was rarely a pleasant experience.
In 1890, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of Catholics who objected to being forced to read the King James Bible in schools. Although Wisconsin was the only state in the Union to go this route, the ruling set an unofficial precedent in the rest of nation and no doubt made it easier for students like myself to ask to be excused.
The early 1960’s was a time of rapid change in the public school system.
My high school, which was near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, had no Hindu or Buddhist students. One was either Christian or Jewish. Atheists, if there were any, tended to keep quiet about it. It was in many ways a world locked inside a snow globe. We prayed The Lord’s Prayer and thought nothing of it.
That changed in 1962 when the Supreme Court heard the Engel vs Vitale case, which barred the recitation of the so-called “Regents’ Prayer,” a generic prayer that addressed “Almighty God” without the Christian references of The Lord’s Prayer.
This left only Bible reading in school but even this gave way in 1963 when two forces combined to replace scripture readings with a Moment of Silence.
The Abington School District v. Schempp case made reading The Lord’s Prayer and the Bible unlawful in public schools. The ruling occurred in conjunction with Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s 1963 lawsuit against the city of Baltimore to ban prayer and Bible reading in that city.
O’Hair’s lawsuit, which also went to the Supreme Court, put a face to the radical change that was sweeping America.
The Moment of Silence was a clumsy replacement for prayer, to say the least. It was often accompanied by static on the school’s PA system. The silence reminded me of TV’s early “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System” announcements, when all programming would stop and viewers were subjected to humming noises.
What was one supposed to be thinking about during the Moment of Silence?
I recall thinking about Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s big gray face while other students used the Moment as an occasion for giggles and the passing of mash notes.
On the heels of the Kennedy decision, The Federalist explained that when “the Declaration of Independence asserted that ‘all men are created equal,’ it was not presented as the learned opinion of our founding fathers but as a self-evident fact, the recognition of rights given by God, not man.”
The Federalist is right.
Man alone doesn’t have the capability or the vision to come up with such a notion. “All men are created equal” can come only from the ‘Source’ that Coach Kennedy wishes to pray to at the 50-yard line.
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, Frontpage Magazine, Broad and Liberty, and the Philadelphia Irish Edition. He is the author of fifteen books, including “Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” “Death in Philadelphia: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” will be published in 2023.