As happens from time to time, my esteemed colleague and fellow writer (David Rosman) and I will disagree on an issue — which, by the way, is healthy because, should we always agree, one of us would surely be unnecessary.
Consequently, it should not surprise anyone that Dave and I would not see eye to eye on the subject of school prayer and the Establishment Clause/Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment.
He cited two offending incidents, one taking place in a Lumpkin County, Ga., high school and the other in our backyard — the high school in Fayette, about 20 miles away as the crow flies.
The former was initiated by a student seeking guidance from a coach that expanded into "text messages passed among students that a prayer vigil was taking place," as Mr. Rosman described it, citing national news sources.
He added that more than 50 students, four teachers and the coach participated — for up to six hours — with class abandoned by faculty and students, who used cellphones, which are prohibited by the student code of conduct.
The second incident concerns a weekly Friday morning prayer session that students are encouraged to attend in Fayette.
The American Humanist Association took issue with the prayer session in a letter to school officials naming the practice unconstitutional and demanding the prayers be ended. For good measure, the letter added that, horror of horrors, the teacher, Gwen Pope, displays Christian literature in full view on her desk.
Mr. Rosman would have us believe that somehow these activities cross a "Constitutional Rubicon," thus placing our First Amendment rights in peril.
I take the opposing view, with a virtual shrug of my shoulders and a "so what?" attitude to what I consider the ultimate in creating a crisis where one does not — and never has — existed.
The first example, far from being a constitutional issue is, instead, one to be handled by school officials. Any disruption that includes teachers abandoning classrooms and students absenting themselves from their studies and illicitly using cellphones, regardless of the reason, is a disciplinary problem rather than a constitutional crisis and should be dealt with as such.
The Fayette High School problem is typical of those broached by such organizations as the aforementioned American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, all famous for seeking arenas to stir up "teapot tempests."
There is little difference between the ACLU's silly lawsuit to remove a religious fish symbol from the Republic, Mo., courthouse and the attempted removal of the Mount Soledad cross on a war memorial in La Jolla, Calif., an edifice that has stood since 1913.
I am fully knowledgeable about both the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of our First Amendment and also of the misinterpretation of Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" letters, which have many Americans convinced that those words actually exist in the Constitution.
The landmark ruling that separated religion and the civil state was a 5-4 decision in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947.
It should not be difficult at all to separate the wheat from the chaff in the interpretation of the Establishment Clause's, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion," or the Free Exercise Clause's, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Apparently the best legal minds of our judiciary have problems reconciling the clauses inasmuch as beginning with Everson v. Board of Education, the highest court and appellate court rulings don't pass my common-sense test.
How is it possible that a simple school prayer, a prayer before a sporting event, one before a commencement exercise, a cross celebrating fallen soldiers, display of the Ten Commandments or even a religious symbol on a courthouse constitutes "a religion established by Congress"?
And, why doesn't banning these relatively innocuous activities violate "the free exercise of religion thereof"?
The notion that such religious activity is "state-sponsored" if an objective observer perceives official school support for such religious activities is a stretch.
It appears to hinge upon who is the arbiter of "objectivity" and whether an institution such as Fayette High School can be identified as "the state," notwithstanding the ruling in Board of Education v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 249–50 (1990).
Granted, most, if not all of these activities are of the Christian faith but, since 77 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, is it really a problem? Are these prayers, symbols or other actions intended to proselyte or convert non-Christians?
From 1776, the Everson v. Board of Education ruling, the influence of renowned atheist Madaelyn Murray O'Hair to copycat lawsuits by people largely seeking notoriety, was there any evidence of a budding theocracy or any of the various religions seizing power over the state?
As an example, Thomas Jefferson, most often quoted for his "wall of separation" letters, is almost never recognized for his contribution to religious tolerance: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Accordingly, in the non-meritorious battle between church and state, what is needed is more tolerance and less nitpicking.
A quote from Ray Davis, author of "The Horns of Elfland," should rule our behavior. "Tolerance only for those who agree with you is no tolerance at all.”
J. Karl Miller is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.