When Laura moved to the Dallas suburb of Duncanville with her
family at the age of 12 and enrolled in a public junior high
school, she might have been forgiven for wondering if she had made
a wrong turn and ended up in 17th-century Massachusetts, where the
Puritans ruled unchallenged.
After winning a spot on the girls' basketball squad, she was
dismayed to find that her coach incorporated prayer into games and
practices. The team routinely recited the Lord's Prayer before and
after each game, and it began every practice the same way. Players
were expected to participate in the prayer during physical
education class. No pep rally, award banquet or bus trip was
complete without spoken communication with Jehovah.
Nor were these moments limited to athletic events. Devotional
exercises, Laura's family discovered, were included in all regular
school board meetings, graduation ceremonies, employee banquets,
teacher orientation sessions and PTA meetings. The biblical account
of creation was taught in history class. Bibles were given away to
students on school grounds.
When Laura (not her real name) elected not to participate in
the team prayers, the coach made her stand apart from the other
players, in view of spectators, while they prayed. One teacher
called her "a little atheist" during class. When her father
complained about the religious atmosphere, an administrator replied
that unless his grandparents were buried in the local cemetery, he
should keep quiet.
Welcome to the gentle world of "voluntary" prayer, which may
soon undergo a huge expansion. One possible consequence of the
Republican takeover of Congress is the realization of an old
conservative dream: turning public schools into agents of religion.
The GOP agenda includes a constitutional amendment to restore
state-sponsored, teacher-led prayer to the classroom. The next
speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is ready to lead the charge.
The Supreme Court decisions banishing officially organized prayer
from public schools, he said in a recent speech at the Heritage
Foundation in Washington, were "bad law, bad history and bad
culture" and ought to be reversed.
As speaker, he said, he would hold hearings on school prayer in
all 50 states in the first six months of the new Congress. "At the
end of that time, after having a thorough national debate at
re-establishing spiritual life and re-establishing our creator at
the center of the American polity, we would, before the July 4
recess, have an up-or-down vote on such an amendment," Gingrich