Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sen. Brady and Prayer in Public Schools

school prayer
It appears that Sen. Bill Brady (R-Pontiac), a Republican candidate for governor, has been criticized for supporting the return of voluntary prayer in public schools. Some sophisticates maintain that since this is not in the province of the governorship, he should have remained quiet about it. But that one runs the risk of being termed a demagogue, hysterical emotionalist or Elmer Gantry by bringing up the subject is indication in itself of the secularism that has partially triumphed in our society. Indeed, since 1965 a particular form of religion has taken over in much of the public sector: really? Where have we been: a particular form of religion?

Yes. One Roy Torcaso applied for appointment as notary public in Maryland. The state required that he had to take an oath, declaring his belief in God. He objected and in 1961 the Warren court laid down the law. It struck down Maryland’s oath requirement, declaring it unconstitutionally invaded Torcaso”s “freedom of belief and religion.” Huh? But Torcaso had no religion. Notwithstanding, said Justice Hugo Black in the majority decision, nontheistic creeds are defined by the court to be religious. Wrote Black: Among religions in this country which do not teach what would commonly be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.”

That rather than striking down religion as we know it, the Court vitiated Maryland’s rule because there are those—secular humanists—who are of a religion that believes there is no religion, or God. In the loose Warren court the decision passed muster, but a majority could not be found to uphold the fact that the First Amendment insists that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thus by its very secular nature, the Warren court violated the Constitution by elevating secular humanism to religious status and insisting that because it exists as a religion, it should triumph in the law.

From the Torcaso case the Court moved to 1963 where in the prayer in school case, the Warren court ruled, using the dictum from Torcaso that government could not “aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” In a concurring opinion, Justice William Brennan captured the distinction between the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, arguing that it should be kept because of its historic significance, a kind of relic back to the days when “our Nation was believed to have been founded `under God.’”

Two years later, in 1965 a federal court found that kindergarten children could not, say, after eating milk and cookies, the Romper Room Grace: “God is great, God is Good and we thank Him for our food. Amen.” Nor could they recite: “Thank you for the world so sweet/thank you for the food we eat/thank you for the birds that sing/that you, God for everything.” In 1967 a federal court pondered a case from an Illinois kindergarten: can the children recite the prayer if the word “God” was left out? No, said the court—because everybody knows who the “you” is. It is God. The intent, the judge said, is to offer thanks to God which is unlawful in public schools.

I am not debater nor am I a candidate but were I nominated, even at this late stage of my decrepitude, I would dearly love to stand by what Brady said and raise the issue to a point of general education for the public which does not understand the nature of the court decisions. The public believes that fair is fair and if you don’t believe in God you shouldn’t have to be embarrassed or swear out an oath. But the public does not understand that Hugo Black wrote into a decision a provision that sets secular humanism apart from all others: since we are not allowed to express our particular belief in God so as not to discriminate against another religion: secular humanism. Rod Blagojevich is not the most eloquent of men and I guarantee you he would head for the hills in that confrontation—and it’s not huzza, red-neck tent meeting histrionics at all but legal scholarship.

In fact, the ignoramuses are those who berate Brady on this. For the scholarship I am indebted, as I have for many years, to Dr. Charles Rice who is professor emeritus as lawyer and philosopher at Notre Dame.


  1. Tom,
    First, I enjoy your blog very much despite how often I disagree with your conclusions. Well and smartly written.
    But second, how would Justice Tom Roeser have voted on the question of whether Roy Torcaso should have had to swear an oath declaring his belief in God to hold a public position?
    Not only do I dearly hope that you and your fellow conservatives argue that, yes, he should, I hope that you bring this argument front and center!

  2. Senator Brady is from Bloomington, not Pontiac.

  3. Tom,

    Nothing keeps students from praying. But, prayers organized by the authorities are prohibited. What's wrong with that?

  4. Of course anyone can pray where ever and when ever they want, and I'm guessing what Brady came out for was the teacher designating a minute or two for silent prayer in the classroom.

    I heard Pat Moynihan respond when asked how he felt about school prayer that he had never heard of a kid hurt by it.

    I think kids should have manadartory grace before lunch. A moment to thank whomever, and if not God; then their parents and the Department of Agriculture.

  5. I would like to know if you can provide the credit information of the picture of the childrens praying?

    Do you know who took it?

    Best regards,

    Cristian Pena