May 19, 2017
For those questioning the claim that the public expression of faith is under attack, actions by public school administrators in Augusta, Maine should school them well on the issue. School officials have assumed the authority to decide that teachers are not allowed to let their colleagues know they are praying for them -- even in private conversations. It makes you wonder if they are still allowed to pray for them at all. Perhaps the school's next steps will be to investigate their thoughts!
Teacher Tony Richardson informed a colleague who was facing some difficulty (and who also attended the same church as her) she would be praying for him. Yet months later after a falling out between her and the colleague, a complaint was lodged against her, and the school gave her a "coaching memorandum" which told her that "[s]tating 'I will pray for you,' and 'you were in my prayers' is not acceptable—even if that other person attends the same church as you." In making such statements, according to the school, she "may have imposed some strong religious/spiritual belief system" on the prayed-for coworker.
This is the state of modern America's hostility to religion, and it doesn't look good. From our military to government bureaucrats, public schools to the mass media, the indifference, ignorance, and outright opposition to a robust and serious faith in God is pervasive -- and ever increasing. Of course, it may still be fine to hold beliefs at some level -- but don't express them. Frankly, if telling a colleague you're praying for them is off limits, I'm not even sure holding beliefs is safe territory anymore. Thankfully, Ms. Richardson has enlisted the help of First Liberty Institute in fighting this action by the school.
The root of such problems lies in the flawed understanding of religious belief revealed later in the "coaching memorandum," which stated, "it is imperative you do not use phrases that integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools." Whatever we are supposed to think of as a "public" belief system (it's not clear), such thinking illustrates the silliness of the impossible public/private dichotomy when it comes to religion. In the minds of people thinking this way -- which includes not just the Augusta schools but multitudes of academics, government workers, and secular "elites" -- religion is fine as long as it is not in the public square. They entirely miss the fact that we all choose beliefs -- some choose religious beliefs and others do not -- and we all bring our beliefs into all aspects of our lives, to some degree. To only exclude religious beliefs from public life is discriminatory -- against religion.
If religious freedom is to prosper again in America after eight years of outright hostility, we must see a philosophical shift that ceases to treat religious expression like a political carcinogen that has to be quarantined. Until that happens, we will continue to defend the rights of people like Ms. Richardson who simply want to live out their faith free from government interference.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.