Schools, politicians mix God and country in wake of attacks
By The Associated Press
WAXAHACHIE, Texas A hush fell over the stadium as football players, cheerleaders and band members from both teams made their way to the end zone. Then, although people in the stands could not actually hear it, the students on the Waxahachie High field recited the Lord's Prayer.
"If we want to pray, we ought to be able to pray," said Martha Howell, whose son is a football coach here. "And we sure do need it."
Since the terrorist attacks, school districts and local governments seem to be blurring some say crossing the line between church and state.
Lawmakers have urged Americans to pray, and some students are doing so openly in class. Many schools have had clergy-led assemblies. Some communities have voted to post the Ten Commandments at courthouses.
"I think you're going to see more Americans not putting up with those secularists trying to make the public square a religion-free zone," said Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Baptist Convention.
Some groups say such displays violate the Constitution's First Amendment prohibition against government establishment of religion.
"The constitutional rights of the religious minority cannot be shoved aside in a time of national crisis," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, based in Washington, D.C. "I hope these efforts to cross constitutional boundaries stop."
Some worry that the wave of patriotic and religious fervor washing over the country might discourage people from speaking out against such actions.
In fact, last week in Fargo, N.D., a group called the Red River Freethinkers announced it was postponing a campaign to remove a Ten Commandments marker from the City Hall plaza.
"Our pursuit of the monument issue irritates that fraction of the community that equates Christianity and patriotism, that regards un-Christian as un-American," group secretary Davis Cope wrote in a letter to The (Fargo) Forum.
Cope said such irritation could contribute to a backlash against non-Christians, especially Muslims.
In Waxahachie, about 50 miles south of Dallas, residents say the recitation of the Lord's Prayer by students is voluntary and does not violate the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year ending pre-game prayer in another Texas school system. In that case, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the Supreme Court said public schools could not permit student-led prayers over district-owned public address systems at athletic events. Such prayers, the high court said, give the appearance of school endorsement of religion.
In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee has issued a proclamation declaring October as "Student Religious Liberty Month," a document that says students' religious freedoms aren't "relinquished at the door." Huckabee has also announced plans to send a letter reminding the state's 310 public school districts that students can engage in "personal or group prayer."
In Maryville, Tenn., the school board has voted to revive a custom that ended in 1998 and open its meetings with prayer, because "we need to take a stand for what is right," member Don Talbott said.
A week after the attacks, the Hamilton County Commission in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted to post the Ten Commandments in city and county government buildings. If a court frowns on the action, commission Chairman Bill Hullander said, "I would sure not want to be the person to walk up there and pull the nail out of it, so to speak, and take it down."
Emboldened by Hamilton County's vote, the nearby town of Ringgold, Ga., approved the posting of three plaques one with the Ten Commandments, one with the Lord's Prayer, and a blank one "for those who believe in nothing," as Councilman Bill McMillon explained it.
A North Carolina official said he hopes patriotism since the attacks will soften criticism of a recent legal settlement allowing the Ten Commandments to be posted in a county courthouse.
"If we're going to be sued over anything, I'd rather be sued over this," said Stokes County Commissioner Willis Overby. "This is what our country is all about. It's God and country."
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