Last fall a student of Fair Haven Union High School received permission from the principal to hold a "National Day of Prayer at the Flag Pole" event, which was attended by a number of students, staff and adults.
The students were very enthused with the results and asked the principal if they could continue once a week with these meetings. They have been meeting every Wednesday morning all through the winter, rain or shine, and have been faithfully praying for God's presence in the school and in the lives of the students, for the nation and children in Sudan, etc.
Several weeks ago students participating were brought into the principal's office, told there was a complaint, and that they could no longer continue and that adults should not have joined, although this was originally approved. Thinking that the adults were the main concern, they met again for prayer at the pole without them. They were again brought into the office one or two at a time with the principal and superintendent and told they could no longer continue. It seems the superintendent was concerned that some other group might want to use the area around the pole and the school would have to let them. The students asked to speak to the School Board. A meeting was held May 17.
At that meeting, the board and superintendent were asked if this action was precipitated by a complaint. They would not give a straight yes-or-no answer to this simple question and told the students it was irrelevant, saying it was a matter of policy and safety and offered the students a room to pray in out of sight.
Mind you, these students have been praying since last fall with no concerns or safety issues. Two days before the meeting a car wash was held in the same general area with adult participation.
It was quite obvious to everyone in attendance at this meeting (about 30 students and adults) that this action was precipitated by a complaint, which makes it a religious issue and not a safety issue, a reality the superintendent and the School Board want to avoid, but the truth is the truth.
It is a sad day when the students at FHUHS are going through a civil exercise to ask for their rights under the Constitution of America and the top educator in our system and the School Board can't give an honest answer to a simple question.
It is also a sad day when the constitutional rights of people in this country are denied because they are Christians. These students now pray on a lawn next to the school. I pray for the day they can return to school property by the flag pole, a symbol of our freedom and our great nation.
If you click on the article link and peruse the comments, you will get a taste of the flavor of the community conversation on this kind of issue.
A personal note before I comment on this story: Roland Smith is a friend of mine. He's a great guy with a fantastic testimony -- he used to be the biggest drug dealer in Fair Haven, Vermont until Jesus hijacked him, and now he pastors a church there -- and I love him.
Public prayer is always a subversive act. I don't care if you're in the churchgoer-thick of the Bible Belt or the post-Christendom wasteland of New England: praying to the Triune God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and John the Baptist in public announces to everyone that Jesus is King and our "Caesars" are not. It announces that our governmental Caesars are not sovereign and the great Caesar of Self -- or the great "Pope Self," if you prefer Luther's twist -- are not sovereign. This is a subversive act. Increasingly so in every part of the Western world.
But especially so here in the Northeast.
This means that push-back on public prayer should not surprise us. You can claim your rights and freedoms all you want; the second you declare there is a God who is sovereign over all and that his Son is the only Way to eternal life, even if you're doing it with your eyes shut, head bowed, and mouth shut, you are telling anybody who disagrees not only that they're wrong, but that they're deadly wrong. And people don't like that.
But push-back on public prayer should not deter us.
I do think American evangelicals conflate too often Christianity with American patriotism, which leads to wanting to fight battles the New Testament gives us no directive to fight. I don't know exactly where Rev. Smith is going with his final words, but the American flag is no talisman for prayer. Your prayer doesn't need it to reach God and your prayer doesn't need it to offend unbelievers. (In many cases, I would think it would be an unnecessary offense. Why insist on the flag? Just persist in prayer.)
That said, telling kids they can't pray of their own accord outside of class time at school, whenever it goes to court, has always been ruled unconstitutional. If they want to make a rule, they should make a "no loitering" rule around the flag pole for everybody. But telling kids not to loiter in gathering places at the school they're supposed to be at by law is nonsensical.
I think the kids have the right to pray publicly. I just wish Christians wouldn't put so much passion into prayer being recognized by the government. I think we can actually harm our witness by constantly crying about our rights and trying to throw our rapidly diminishing weight around. The Church isn't growing in China b/c the government recognizes it and gives it freedom to do whatever it wants.
But of course that doesn't mean restrictions on religious freedoms are okay or that we shouldn't say anything about them.
Nevertheless the push-back on public prayer should not hurt us.
Prayer is recognized by the sovereign God of the Universe. That is sufficient.