“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
“Train up a child in the way he or she should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
For years, I have heard evangelical friends declare that our nation’s downturn began when the Supreme Court took God and prayer out of our public schools. I am in full agreement that we need God and prayer in our schools, but I do not agree that the Supreme Court took Him or prayer out. Please let me explain.
First, remember that every born-again Christian has God, the Holy Spirit, living inside them. (John 3:1-6, 14:23) Whenever a Christian student, parent, teacher, or other school staff member enters the school, God within them enters as well. The issue is not whether God is in the schools. The issue is whether God is being released by Christians in our schools to do the wonderful things only God can do.
Second, recognize there is nowhere God cannot go in response to the prayers of His people. (Psalm 139:7-12; 2 Chronicles 7:14) Even if there is not a single Christian inside a school, Christians outside that school can pray Him in.
Third, understand that the Supreme Court continues to affirm the rights of public school students to have individual and group prayer, and religious discussion, so long as it is not disruptive or done during school instruction and activities. This is guaranteed by the Free Expression Clause of our First Amendment to the Constitution.
This same Free Expression Clause empowers teachers and school staff, or parents, to pray privately on public school grounds. School staff simply can’t pray publicly at school because it would be interpreted as a government employee endorsing religion while “on the clock”.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….” Under this Establishment Clause, a series of Supreme Court cases beginning in 1948 have prohibited public schools from giving religious instruction, endorsing a particular faith, or leading prayer. Looking back at our nation’s first 150 years when there was no such prohibition, many Christians have cried, “Foul!” But I urge us to look deeper.
When the First Amendment was adopted in 1791, eight of the thirteen original colonies had state-sponsored churches. Those churches received favored treatment over other Christian denominations, and on occasion people in other denominations (often evangelical) were penalized or oppressed.
The drafters of the First Amendment wanted all people to practice their faith as they chose, without adverse consequences. While they probably did not anticipate this would someday include non-Christian faith, they chose to protect all “religion”.
These wise drafters also wanted to ensure we never had a government-sponsored religion. They were primarily looking to avoid an American equivalent of the Church of England, but I would quickly add our need to avoid what happened in the 4th century when Roman Emperor Constantine “adopted” Christianity, and what happened five centuries later when Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne took matters even further, forcibly converting the peoples his armies conquered.
The inevitable result of government-endorsed or government-enforced faith is religion rather than relationship – the opposite of what Christian faith is supposed to be. It produces, as best, a cultural Christianity: a “form of godliness” that honors God with our lips while keeping our hearts far from Him. (Isaiah 29:13; 2 Timothy 3:5) With the exception of our founding, two Great Awakenings, and times of war, I believe much of our nation’s history has been defined by cultural Christianity. As a result, we have lost ground instead of gaining ground like God’s Word promises. (Matthew 13:31-32, 16:18, 28:19-20)
A close look at 1 Timothy 2:1-2 reveals that government is not supposed to establish faith, but faith can, particularly through prayer, establish good government. This includes good and safe public schools.
Churches and parents – train and encourage our Christian students of every age to pray at school and share their faith. Help start more faith-based student groups that meet before or after school They can invite their not-yet-Christian friends to come. Organize congregational prayer for our school boards, teachers, school staff and students that will make sure everyone is “covered”.
Teachers and staff – pray “as you go”. Pray for your students by name. (Praise God, I know many of you do) Pray for each other and form faith-based support groups among yourselves. You have hard but very important jobs.
Let’s all join ministries like Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bible Study Two and See You at The Pole in releasing more and more God in our schools, and see all the wonderful things the Lord will do!
God bless you, and God bless our community.