They were four simple words but they somehow triggered a great offense.
“Please bow your heads,” the woman said to the audience before her prayer.
Let me set the scene for you to understand the context.
I was sitting at a table among a group of high school students in an enormous room of nearly 1000 people. I was chaperoning at a service club convention. High school service clubs from all around the Mid-Atlantic States were meeting for a luncheon to honor students who exemplified what it means to give of yourself and serve others. Some of these students raised thousands of dollars and volunteered hours of their time to help people in need in their communities and poverty-stricken areas around the world. Great kids were surrounding me. Virtuous students who seem to understand that serving others is a blessing and brings positive change to the world around them.
So imagine my surprise when these same students reacted to the woman’s motion to bow our heads in prayer before the food was served. As I closed my eyes, I began to hear the gasps and whispers of contempt.
“What? This is ridiculous.”
“How can they do this?”
The prayer was simple and very generic, and as I looked up I could see the students appalled by what just took place. They started a discussion amongst each other.
One student asked, “Is that even legal?”
Another questioned, “Is our service organization affiliated with religion?” (Gasp)
They then looked directly at the only Muslim student at the table. “How do you feel about that?” one student asked.
“It’s not a problem. It’s cool! I am fine with different faiths,” the Muslim student answered dismissing their concerns.
Four simple words, a simple prayer which triggered a great offense.
I sat there as the only adult taking in their reaction. Throughout the day, I let that scene sink in and became more and more discouraged and sad for this future generation of smart, talented, service-orientated students. Many sitting in that room had already received letters of acceptance to some of the best universities in this country. A majority of them are top of their class, and will graduate with honors. But I sat there thinking these are bright kids who know absolutely nothing about the freedoms we have in this country.
American History and Civics are not being properly taught, and our schools are failing our kids!
I must admit, I was sad that the students’ reaction shows the godlessness that comes from their generation, but that’s not entirely what troubled me. We are free to believe or disbelieve in God. We have the choice not to embrace religion, but that choice is the beauty of America and what is now so misunderstood.
Public prayer if not the enemy of freedom. It is the very definition of liberty. Many of America’s schools do not teach this definition. Our smartest students and teachers are ignorant about America’s History and our founding ideals of religious liberty.
The student’s question of whether or not a public prayer is legal should not come from the voice of an American Citizen. It’s something that you would hear in Communist China or North Korea where people are imprisoned for openly expressing their faith.
I’ll shout this from my rooftop. I’ll debate any history teacher or politician. Here are six words that will trigger the masses: You Can’t Have Freedom Without Faith!
What? Do I have to be religious? Must I believe in God for freedom?
No! Absolutely not. You are free to believe just as much as you are free to disbelieve in this country. Choosing to live godless is also freedom of expression. But our Founders knew that freedom does not work without allowing the open expression of faith. Yes, even public prayer.
The fact that we are graduating students from our public schools and universities who do not understand this founding principle in our Constitution is troubling and even dangerous. Our teachers and students are so fixated on Thomas Jefferson’s “separation of Church and State” reference that they don’t even realize how that wrong interpretation is breaking down our liberties.
What if that prayer was illegal? Then there would be no separation of church and state in this country. That would mean our government could dictate when religious expression is appropriate. Our Founders were brilliant for understanding the role of faith when it comes to freedom. They wanted a country free to express faith both in and outside the walls of our churches.
Freedom is about publicly bowing your head to pray for your food or choosing to not engage in that simple unthreatening act of religious freedom. The state or federal government cannot convict someone because they publicly prayed amongst a group of believers or non-believers. That would be persecution and tyranny.
What makes America so amazing is that we are free to live out our faith openly. The government cannot and should not get involved in how we choose to live out our religious beliefs. But America is changing, and our government is now getting into the business of regulating faith expression and our kids are buying into it. This is not America! The fact that the Supreme Court has ruled against prayer in our public schools demonstrates that the First Amendment is not protected.
Our country seems limitless in the “freedom” to express ourselves. Free to love who we want to love. Free to define our gender in the way we want. Free to publicly express our opinions through activism. But public prayer is now the new trigger for offensive speech?
The sad, ironic part of my story is that I was sitting amongst a group of students who are some of the most giving and selfless young people in this country. The fact that they have servants’ hearts is a great reflection of who they are as Americans. But they don’t understand that the very fact that they live in a free society is why they can sit there and be rewarded for their generosity. Freedom is a gift, and it’s a gift from God- whether you choose to believe in God or not. It’s why the Statue of Liberty holds her torch and has offered this freedom to millions around the world. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” as quoted at the base of Miss Liberty.
Teach your kids our country’s history. Don’t depend on your child’s teacher to teach it to them. Study the Founders. Buy books that represent the true American ideal of freedom as it was founded. Celebrate the heroes of this country that believed in and fought for the freedoms we take for granted in America. Teach your children to love America: who we are, why we were founded, our failures and successes, and how our freedoms in this country have helped to serve so many around the world. Most importantly, don’t hide away your religious expression only for the walls of your church. Live out your faith, freely!
One of my favorite authors/liberty preachers, Eric Metaxas, said it best in his book If You Can Keep It. (Which I highly recommend.) He noted, “America, that great and fragile experiment in Liberty, has become cut off from its roots. We need to see this and we need to do all we can to remedy it, and quickly.”
Maybe you think I have been too “triggered” by the offense of prayer by these students. But when discussing with my daughter this sad event that took place she said something that resonated the importance of this blog post. She reacted, “Welcome to my world, Mom.”
I don’t want my daughter to live in a country where she has to keep her faith private for fear of offense or retribution. If we have freedom to come out of the closet (so to speak) with any other self-expression, then faith should be included. In a room filled with people who love to serve others, my hope is that service would be the crux for teaching equality and the “unalienable rights” of “life, LIBERTY and happiness.”
And everyone said, “AMEN!”