Public Prayer Fanatics Borrow Page from Enemy's Script. (Up Front: News and Opinion from Independent Minds)

By Ebert, Roger | The Humanist, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Public Prayer Fanatics Borrow Page from Enemy's Script. (Up Front: News and Opinion from Independent Minds)


Ebert, Roger, The Humanist


The Bush administration has been dealt a setback in its campaign to allow prayer in our public schools. The full 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has voted 15-9 to back the 2-1 vote by its earlier panel finding the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional because of the words "under God."

The pledge, written in 1892, had those words added to it in 1954, during the Eisenhower administration, and I remember a nun in our Catholic school telling us we had to say it because it was the law--but it was wrong, because it violated the principle of separating church and state.

We started every day with classroom prayer at St. Mary's School, of course, but Sister Rosanne said there was a difference between voluntary prayer in a private religious school and prayer in a school paid for by every taxpayer--a distinction so obvious that Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft are forced to willfully ignore it.

Ashcroft said after the ruling that his Justice Department will "spare no effort to preserve the rights of all our citizens to pledge allegiance to the American flag"--a misrepresentation so blatant that it functions as a lie. The pledge remains intact and unchallenged. The court said nothing about pledging allegiance to the flag. It spoke only of the words "under God"--which amounted, the court said, to an endorsement of religion.

This is really an argument between two kinds of prayer--vertical and horizontal. I don't have the slightest problem with vertical prayer. It is horizontal prayer that frightens me. Vertical prayer is private, directed upward toward heaven. It need not be spoken aloud, because God is a spirit and has no ears. Horizontal prayer must always be audible, because its purpose is not to be heard by God, but to be heard by fellow men standing within earshot.

To choose an example from football, when my team needs a field goal to win and I think, "Please, dear God, let them make it!"--that is vertical prayer. When, before the game, a group of fans joins hands and "voluntarily" recites the Lord's Prayer--that is horizontal prayer. It serves one of two purposes: to encourage me to join them or to make me feel excluded.

Although some of the horizontal devout are sincere, others use this prayer as a device of recruitment or intimidation.

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Public Prayer Fanatics Borrow Page from Enemy's Script. (Up Front: News and Opinion from Independent Minds)
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