The Nov. 20 editorial "School Prayer Again" cites the "First Amendment," "the Constitution" and the "Establishment Clause" in its apparent disapproval of prayer at public school football games.
The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Without attempting to address the question as to whether laws aimed at protecting children from religious observations constitute prohibition of the free exercise of religion, the term "establishment of religion" clearly referred, in the 18th century, to a religious institution supported by taxes imposed on all citizens.
For example, in colonial times, everyone who lived in Virginia was required to pay taxes to support the clergy and maintain the property of the Church of England. One had to be a member of that group to hold public office. Ministers of competing faiths were sometimes fined or imprisoned. (The Constitution, in fact, bars only the federal government--not the states--from creating or maintaining an "establishment of religion." Some states continued to maintain tax-supported churches well into the last century.)
According to the men who wrote our Constitution, public prayer in public schools has nothing to do with "an establishment of religion." Public prayers were frequently offered on public occasions well into the 20th century. It has been only in the past 50 years that judges have interpreted the Establishment Clause in such a way as to--to use The Post's language--protect children from subjection to "unwanted prayer at official school events."
Therefore it is not exactly accurate to say that the First Amendment or the Establishment Clause supports The Post's view. Rather it is accurate to say that The Post's point of view is supported by recent interpretations of the Constitution.
C. BERNARD RUFFIN III