Protecting religion

THE Supreme Court of the United States some 22 years ago ruled that the Constitution forbids a moment of required spoken prayer in the public schools. It has now ruled that required moments of silence in schools, if for the intended purpose of prayer, likewise are forbidden by the Constitution. In an Alabama case, the court ruled 6 to 3 that the First Amendment guarantee of separation of church and state was violated by a state law allowing moments of silence for prayer, finding that the statute's intent was to promote religion.

The net effect of the court's latest decision is to again protect religion from becoming embroiled in public, governmental affairs.

No doubt the decision will not please those who would promote religion through the venue of government or control the state through ecclesiastical suasion, or both.

Nonetheless, history records that the fused temporal might of church and government has too often brought much misery to those seeking to live or pray according to their own conscience or private leading.

The start of such repression can come under the most innocuous of guises, in which those seeking to protect both religious and state independence are claimed to oppose an obviously useful practice -- such as prayer during the school day.

One can argue, pertinently to the religious orientation of those promoting school prayer, that ``moments'' of prayer, whether silent or audible, are not enough, given the commandment's standard to ``pray without ceasing.'' Nothing can keep the individual from praying fervently, constantly, in gratitude or in need, or simply to stay in touch with the spiritual presence of intelligent good in his experience. The state can neither say when to pray nor in what manner or moment the Maker should reveal himself. The state is no party to revelation.

Better citizens, morally and spiritually, make for better government. Good government should abet an improved climate for the practice of religion.

But only confusion, especially for children, can come from using public law and facilities to compel the individual's attention toward a practice that is essentially a private matter between him and his Maker. We applaud the court's decision.

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