Letters to the Editors
School Board must keep neutral position
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2001
Editor: The swirling controversy that gave birth to the Citrus Times article Prayer idea stirs storm of faith stunningly illustrates part of the reasoning behind the whole concept of separation of church and state.
If we are to preserve the ideal of freedom of religion, and the rights of people to worship in their own way, we must encourage our School Board to maintain a neutral position on this issue. It would not be appropriate for the board to give any one religious denomination a leg up, no matter how innocent the intent or how right the idea feels.
Individually, in our heart of hearts, we may feel strongly that some form of open prayer is now necessary at our board meetings and things, but we must realize that our "good" book is not the only book that is read, that our prayers are not the only ones that are said, and that our respective faiths are not the only truth. We are a single nation of many beliefs and faiths living under one roof, and a divine light shines through all our windows when, and only when, we collectively show respect and deference to the beliefs and faiths of others.
The beliefs we hold, the faiths we choose to follow, and the depths of our conviction toward them are a personal matter that can be shared at our discretion. There is nothing wrong with people with strong religious convictions trying to show others the path. However, there is a big difference between showing someone the path, and herding them down it.
When religious groups try to influence government, as is being done with the School Board, they are not only trying to herd people down their path, but they are seeking a greater platform from which to accomplish the task.
The First Amendment of our Constitution establishes the separation of church and state for two reasons: To limit the government's role in religion, and to limit religion's role in government. The Founding Fathers purposely defined this Amendment in such a way as to have dual purpose. From their own historic review of events associated with religion, it is easy to see why they wanted to keep one from being unduly influenced by the other. Yes, the design of our government does suggest that the Founding Fathers may have been influenced by religion to some extent, but still they wisely recognized the need for a degree of balance here that could only be obtained through reasonable limits.
I do not honestly think new board member Carol Snyder intended or expected the firestorm she kicked up, but because of it, the School Board is forced to deal with a touchy subject here. However, I'm sure they will find a way to bring all this to peaceful conclusion. Perhaps after a few moments of silent contemplation, the board will see the light.
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