As Labor Day gets smaller and smaller in hindsight and the leaves begin to turn color, football takes center stage in cities and towns all across America.
For many, that means the return of such weekend traditions as marching bands in full-dress splendor, cross-town rivalries, raucous student bodies and instant young heroes.
For some, like those at the Batesburg-Leesville High School in South Carolina, it means the return of public prayer before football games.
Thanks to the exemplary level of diversity that we enjoy here at Temple, the idea of a public prayer before Owl football games – or any other university athletic event – wouldn’t get any further than the minds of the campus’ fundamentalist element.
But not only does this issue face countless less-fortunate college campuses in this country, it will also touch most of us some time after we’ve graduated and left North Broad for good.
Luckily, the United States Supreme Court – and by extension the US Constitution and the American Civil Liberties Union – has been grappling with these sorts of problems nonstop for several years. A June Court decision upheld previous decisions declaring that the Constitution prohibits students from leading stadium crowds in prayer over public address systems.
According to the ACLU, the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision from 1971 stipulates that “government activity is only constitutional if it has a secular purpose, its effect neither advances nor inhibits religion and it does not excessively entangle government practices with religion.”
The activity of Batesburg-Leesville High School violates that decision on all three counts.
An astute opponent of the Court and the ACLU on this issue would undoubtedly say that the text of the Constitution does not place a limit on public prayer, at football games or anywhere else. This is true; case law is the entire basis for any prohibition.
The same is true, however, for laws against racial segregation, which rescued America from the clutches of public prejudice.
Less sophisticated opponents, like Chester, S.C., city councilwoman Betty Bagley, argue that “They (the Supreme Court) need to leave us alone when it comes to prayers. That’s what’s wrong with the world today, taking God out of our lives.”
First, there is no one on Earth that can take God out of the life of someone who possesses true faith, even if prayer were prohibited altogether.
Those who feel that the Court is robbing them of God by taking away public-address prayer at football games are deluding themselves about the strength of their faith.
If Ms. Bagely and those like her need mob rule to believe, then they don’t really believe.
Second, those who flaunt their First Amendment right to prayer at public gatherings are often at the head of the line when it comes time to limit free speech which goes against the majority opinion.
Try to imagine, for instance, what would happen if a student broadcast a Muslim prayer at a Batesburg-Leesville High School football game.
Unfortunately for all Americans, sometimes the mob does rule.
It’s unlikely that the South Carolina chapter of the ACLU will be able to find a plaintiff to mount a lawsuit against the school, and the prayers will probably go on in direct defiance of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, prayers will go on in the rest of America for the children — the often-silent victims of ignorance — that they might grow up to be better citizens than their parents.