Anita Bryant, who in 1977 gave us a campaign against equal rights for homosexuals, has pledged a new crusade for 1978.
She will head an organization called "Protect America's Children." Originally it was to be "Save the Children", but she discovered that the title has been preempted by an organization that actually does this.
Anyhow, the purpose of Anita's new crusade will be "to put voluntary prayer into the schools."
I have a hunch she'll do better with this one than she did against the homosexuals. People are embarrassed to talk about homosexuals. There are so many nuances and shades to the subject that the problem, if that's what it is, defies defination, even by psychiatrists. Also, private compassions come to mind and don't lend themselves easily to deciding whether to be "pro" or "con."
But prayer in the schools sounds like a marvelous diversion for 1978. Is the Israel-Arab question too thorny? Are the defense budget and the energy question complicated and confusing? Then try prayer in the schools. Any city councilman can run on the platform and claim the "good" vote as against the "bad."
It fits, too, into what appears to be a national trend toward revivalism. "Born again" is a popular phrase and becoming a big business. Prayer in the schools may seem a logical progression.
To be sure, there's something phony about that word "voluntary." Any time the authoriative figure of the teacher stands up in front of the class and says, "Now, boys and girls, it's time for prayer," what follows is about as voluntary as when a drill sergeant bawls out, "Squad right! " The kid who doesn't at least pretend to pray is marked down as class oddball.
But that's not the only reason I shall not join the Bryant crusade and why, indeed, I may even decide to take up tomato juice.
First, the ieda of prayer in the schools is in direct contravention to the First Amendment. New Jersey's substitution of meditation seems to me to present no constitutional problem.
But Anita Bryant will surely not want to waste her energies by pushing for anything so namby-pamby. She'll want the real thing - that is, an exhibition of the fact that, thanks to her, every schoolchild is at prayer.
Such an exhibition seems to be sacrilegious. Except on very special occasions, I think praying outside a church or in public is sacrilegious. Chirst forbade show-off prayer in His Sermon on the Mount, and it is my opinion that if He chose to revisit the earth today, the first people He would drive from His temple would be those leaders of revivalism who have turned themselves into vast-free enterprises.
Religion itself is a private matter. But the institutions that represent it ought to be as public as possible. There is something distasteful, even irreligious, about Billy Graham's recently revealed millions. Savers of souls become suspect when they turn out to be savers of money as well.
Anyhow, I don't want my children vying with other children to see who can pray the loudest or the hardest or sound the most sincere or please the teacher.
I have suggested that they pray regularly, carefully, sincerely, and with aforethought.
But the kind of prayer I'm talking about and in which I hope that they engage would not be suitable for the classroom. It can only be learned through religion, which is not the business of public schools.