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Education: The Offensive Prayer

2 minute read

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.”

Is this 22-word prayer an encroachment on the right to religious freedom? Recited in unison by schoolchildren, the prayer begins each school day in the suburban Long Island school district of Herricks. Last week five property owners in the district brought suit in the New York State Supreme Court to end the practice, waited for a ruling later this month.

The American Civil Liberties Union backed the suit, and Attorney William Butler, presenting the property owners’ objections in court, contended that the prayer violates principles set down in the ist and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. The A.C.L.U. took the case, he said, because even though the prayer is nondenominational, it is “offensive” to some parents. Orthodox Jews, he noted, customarily pray in Hebrew and with their heads covered.

School Board Lawyer Bertram Daiker replied that no child is forced to say the prayer. A child who does not believe in God, or whose parents object to the wording of the prayer, may remain silent.

The Herricks prayer took a long time reaching the courts. It was approved by the New York State board of regents in 1951, and has since been used by several other New York school districts. Herricks schools began the daily custom last fall. Said School Board President William Vitale: “I can only conclude that this suit is a premeditated act to undermine the American heritage. This is not a religious issue. It’s simply a matter of giving our children additional moral and spiritual help and recognition of God.” Added Daiker: “The Supreme Court itself starts each day with the words, ‘God bless the U.S. and this honorable court,’ so how can God be unconstitutional in the schools?”

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