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March 29, 1984 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1984-03-29

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OPINION

Page 4

Thursday, March 29, 1984

The Michigan Daily

State isn't

neutral on

prayer issue

By Paul Champoux
In this debate both sides present
compelling arguments, and taking
sides is not a simple matter due to the
interplay of three concerns. The first is
the need to safeguard each individual's
freedom to be true to conscience. The
second is the inescapable influence of
public institutions and practices upon
individuals, especially upon formative
children. The third is concern for the
quality of character and the spiritual
strength of our nation. Whatever the
public practice is regarding school
prayer, can it in fact be neutral as it
impinges upon the varying, even con-
trary, beliefs of different individuals?
If not, then how can both the freedom of
all, and their opportunity for religious
growth and expression be maximized?
. The discussion of school prayer in the
Senate and the media raises actually
two questions which need to be
distinguished from each other. One is,
should a civil institution (public
schools, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Con-
stitution) endorse or institute public
worship? The second is, if they do, then
who should formulate the prayers, and
how can they be made voluntary?
THE FIRST question of endorsement
by a civil body depends on a larger
issue: should God be officially
recognized and honored in public
(civic, educational) life?
About that first question, some
propose that the state take a "neutral"
stance vis-a-vis religion by not permit-
ting any group prayer organized by a
public body or official. At first that
may sound neutral, but on reflection
that too can be seen as a particular
religious position. There can be no
really neutral position. The decision
must derive from one of two premises,
the choice (of either) being a religious
act itself: a commitment to a particular
belief about Ultimate Being and
ultimate values. The two premises are
that either there is God whom we can

know, or else there is not. If there is,
then we must choose either to seek to
recognize and honor him, or ignore and
neglect him. From God's perspective
he should be honored both by in-
dividuals and by the civil bodies
representing man in society. But God's
purpose for man includes the freedom
for man to ignore or reject him (not the
right to, but the freedom to). And our
constitution aims at preserving that
free choice.
Our form of government also permits
the majority to make laws according to
their preference, as long as that does
not violate justice for the minority,
their basic dignity or their rightful
moral commitments. So if a majority
votes to exclude time for prayer from
the school curriculum, they may be un-
der God's judgment but would not be
violating out Constitution.
BUT FOR the same reason, if a
majority decides that they want to pray
publicly in school orwcommunity
gatherings, should the wishes of the
minority carry more weight than the
wishes of the majority? What justice is
that? On that score, Time magazine
reported, "Polls have consistently
shown heavy majorities in favor of
school prayer; Gallup reported last
September that 81 percent of respon-
dants who had followed the issue sup-
ported an amendment that would per-
mit 'voluntary' prayer, versus only 14
percent opposed." So freedom to pray
is being taken away by a very small
minority.
Even if those desiring to pray would
be in the minority, they nevertheless
could justly be accommodated in some
way. The school property belongs to
all: not only to the majority, but also to
the minority who also pay taxes. So it is
not justice if, for instance, a
homosexual group, themselves a
minority group in number, can get use
of public property and funds, but a
Bible club is prohibited from using
school rooms for after-class meetings.
Sen. Howard Baker commented that

public schools have an "anti-religious
bias", and added that "prayer is a right
to be exercised or not exercised volun-
tarily." So a government cannot simply
say, "let the people practice what they
want to in their homes and churches,
but we will be uninvolved in schools and
public property." Rather, the gover-
nment of necessity does take a de facto
stand for or against God.
The majority's right to express a pro-
religious stance as a community was
supported by Chief Justice Burger in a
recent Supreme Court decision. He
wrote then that the Constitution does
not decree the complete separation df
church and state, but rather "affir-
matively mandates accommodation,
not merely tolerance, of all religions,
and forbids hostility toward any." The
Constitution does not require that the
state be uncommitted regarding deity,
or that it refrain from encouraging
religion in general. The state's
neutrality toward particular religions
is not inconsistent with its positive
stance towards religion generically,
and in fact has not kept God from being
officially recognized.
OUR DECLARATION of Indepen-
dence says that the individual's
guarantee of inalienable rights arises
from the existence, will, and law of
God. Government minted coins say, "In
God we trust". The pledge of allegiance
states that we are "one nation under
God," and officials have taken office
with vows sealed by, "so help me,
God." Government has recognized that
the work of religious organizations is
beneficial to society, and has officially
aided them by protecting their non-
profit status for taxation. Giving verbal
recognition and economic aid to such
groups is no more a breach of the
separation between church and state
than is allocating public time and
facilities for the practice of religion.
Consistent with that, a large number of
citizens, out of a sense of right and
gratitude and self-preservation, want to
apply to our nation the principle God

stated through his prophets: "The Lord
declares ... those who honor me I will
honor, but those who despise me will be
disdained" (I Samuel 2:30), and
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the
Lord.. . " (Psalm 33:12).
If our nation decides that God should
be publicly recognized, even officially
recognized, then we can move on to the
second question. That is, who will com-
pose and institutionalize the wording of
that recognition? If only silent prayer is

If spoken prayer is used in a united
assembly or group session of regular,
mandatory attendance, our religious
p'lurality would not permit the
establishment of an "official" prayer
for all. There can be no such thing as an
absolutely "nondenominational
prayer" (a lowest common
denominator). There might be one with
"meat" in it which is still acceptable to
the large majority of religious groups.
But one that is bland and says nothing

'So it is not justice if, for instance, a
homosexual group, themselves a minority
group in number, can get use of public
property and funds, but a Bible club is
prohibited from using school rooms for af-
ter-class meetings.

not carry law-making authority with
their formulations. Let them be selec-
ted representatively or randomly in a
way that would represent the various
groups fairly.
Only the question of voluntary par-
ticipation remains. Of course, no
student should be required to pray him-
self - that is, to say a prayer in unison
with the group, or to speak a written
prayer himself. When a prayer is
spoken by a volunteer in a regular class
or assembly, the students would not
have to pray themselves, though they
could not avoid hearing someone else
pray - either a peer or an adult.
That may seem unduly coercive at
first until we consider that students
have little choice about hearing daily
the world-and-life views of teachers
anyway. These range from casual
blasphemy in the use of God's names, to
the systematic teaching of atheism and
the sovereignty of matter in natural
science, social, science, and political
science courses. They are not only
being forced to sit and listen to that,
but in the case of instruction, to tak
notes and be tested on it! (Try adding
that requirement to the prayer amen-
dment!) Yet cursing and naturalistic
premises are religious statements just
as much as prayer is! Senator Baker's
charge of anti-religious bias in public
schools is demonstrated by that.
In conclusion, I believe that these
issues, as I have discussed them in
detail, are what need to be clarified,
spelled out to the satisfaction of the
large majority, and guaranteed in some
way, before the very general wording of
any of the present proposed amen-
dments will actually be ratified by
Congress and th'e states.

permitted, then the individual is free to
formulate the prayer, however he wan-
ts to, or else he is free not to pray at all.
But spoken prayer may have greater
learning potential, and greater
religious significance by group par-
ticipation. So if spoken prayer should be
formulated by persons selected in some
random or representative way, or only
spoken in separate settings and for-
mulated by various persons chosen by
the students or their parents according
to their own various preferences (as in
extracurricular student clubs,
"released time" periods). Proposed
amendment SJ Res 212 would allow
student religious groups to use public
school buildings for meeting during
non-class hours.

would not satisfy its purpose, and would
be offensive to those having a clearly
developed basic theology.
BUT IT IS possible to have spoken
prayer without it being an officially
formulated one. Proposed amendment
SJ Res 73, while allowing organized,
recited prayer, states that neither a
state nor a federal government can
compose any prayer. Also, Senator
Baker proposed a compromise for the
other proposals offered which states,
' ... neither the United States nor any
state shall compose or mandate the
words of any prayer to be said in public
schools." Let those who formulate the
prayers be from non-governmental
components of society: representative,
willing persons or associations who do

Champoux is an area represen-
tative of InternationalStudents Inc.

4

Sinclair

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Vol. XCIV-No. 142

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

I

Editorials represeit a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board

Cast (away) votes

MANY POLLING places opened
late, some never opened at all,
and there are allegations that a couple
of poll operators allowed only certain
people to vote. Vote fraud in El
Salvador? No, actually these problems
surrounded this year's poorly conduc-
ted Michigan Student Assembly elec-
tions.
MSA's explanation is that many in-
dividuals enlisted to man the polls
bowed out ot their commitments at the
last moment. That is pretty hard luck
but it shouldn't get MSA off the hook.
The elections are an important time
for the assembly to establish some
much-needed legitimacy and com-
petence. Efficient, fair, well-publicized
elections make a favorable impression
- an impression that wasn't made this
year.

It is not such a monumental task to
provide poll operators provided that
someone is conscientiously planning
ahead. And MSA should be planning
ahead. The more votes cast, the more
right the assembly has to claim itself
as a representative student voice.
Convenient voting opportunities should
be a top priority. If they are not, they
should be. And if they already are a top
priority, one has to wonder about the
competence of those responsible.
MSA possesses a dubious reputation
in the eyes of the student body that will
not be helped by this year's bad plan-
ning. The assembly also missed an op-
portunity to impress the . ad-
ministration which is understandably
interested in who votes and how the
whole procedure is handled.
MSA can't afford to mess up like that.
The price is too steep.

6n

I

Vigilante justice

LETTERS TO THE DAILY:
TAs should unite behind GEO

W AROLD Shapiro cuts his own throat,
n the proposed code for nonaca-
demic conduct in his recent memo to the
regents, printed in this week's Univer-
sity Record.
Shapirocites a recent incident at the
University of Pennsylvania in which
that school was "criticized for treating
some students leniently who had gang-
raped another student.
He uses no more than a newspaper
account of the event, but he's ready to
trv and convict the accused in

charges.
Tell us President Shapiro, were you
at the scene of the alleged crime? Do
you know who did what to whom and
how any of the individuals acted? No?
Neither do we. And while we respect
the position of the victim, we're not
ready to pronounce guilt.
Add Shapiro's callous regard for
legal rights to his vigilante-like at-
titude, and the University may soon
find itself with lynch mobs on its han-
ds. In the memo, Shapiro also states

To the Daily:
As a graduate student teaching
assistant, I have been disturbed
by several letters to the editor
appearing in the Daily recently.
Graduate students at the Univer-
sity are fortunate to have a union.
Because of GEO, TA s enjoy
health benefits and a sizable
tuition reduction. Because of
GEO, TA s got a raise this year
and will again next year along
with a bigger tuition waiver.

speak at meetings and get in-
volved in union activities.
Nonetheless, as with most
organizations, a small number of
volunteers are forced to do most
of the work. If all graduate
students joined together and
were willing to give a few hours a
semester to the organization that
helps us all, next winter when
BLOOM COUNTY

contract negotiations come
around again the University
would take us seriously. If we
fight together instead of bicker,

we could win a full tuition waiver
and a living wage.
- Marilyn Watkins
Marchi22

Unsigned editorials appearing on the left side
of this page represent a majority opinion of the
Daily's Editorial Board.
by Berke Breathed

I I

I -I

IJ

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