America, Where Are You? Part 2

The Attack on Voluntary Prayer

[A]s D. James Kennedy once pointed out, in 1935, what was the most educated nation on earth? The answer was Germany. But that didn’t prevent Auschwitz from taking place. So there is such a thing as education, where if it’s devoid of God, it is dangerous.
Jerry Newcombe


Key point: In 1962 the Supreme Court denied school children the opportunity to acknowledge God and seek His blessings for their leaders and the nation. America has been paying a heavy price for this ever since.


For summaries of all the articles in this series, go here.

On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Engel vs. Vitale, a case involving voluntary school prayer. In New York, the state Board of Regents had written a prayer and encouraged students to recite it in school. Participation was voluntary, but in New Hyde Park, New York, a group of students’ families took the matter to court, contending the policy violated their religious beliefs. The group was led by Steven Engel, who was Jewish. The ruling was 6 to 1 in favor of the plaintiffs, and it would have been 7 to 1 if Justice Felix Frankfurter had not suffered a career-ending stroke. Justice Byron White did not participate because he did not take his position on the court until after oral arguments had been made.

Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1958-1981

Justice Potter Stewart, the lone dissenter, did not believe the prayer was unconstitutional because the Frist Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing an official religion, not from encouraging prayer. Focusing on the Constitution itself, Stewart wrote, “I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it.”

On the heels of the ruling, Erwin Griswald, former dean of the Harvard Law School, also objected to the majority’s opinion. He pointed out that the First Amendment of the US Constitution had not been violated, since Congress had made no law establishing a state religion. Neither had the State of New York, for that matter. This, he maintained, was a local matter, not a federal one. Moreover, he contended, “In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?”


In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?
—Erwin Griswold, former dean of the Harvard Law School, objecting to the Supreme Court’s ruling against voluntary prayer in Engel vs. Vitale


What was the prayer that so offended the majority of justices, as well as the plaintiffs? It was this:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

The 1962 decision became the basis for other Supreme Court rulings that have further restricted school prayer. Other decisions followed after these, and they’ve affected far more than education: In and through them, “the Supreme Court gave birth to an atheistic tyranny that has bedeviled America ever since.” According to the information site conservapedia.com, “Since the banning of school prayer, there have been a 225 percent increase in amount of children without fathers, a 343 percent rise in illegitimate births, and a 454% enlargement in the violent crime rate. These data are taken from the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, which in turn relies on statistical data collected since 1960.”

A Departure from Founding Principles

The Founders and early leaders of the United States never intended that God would be separated from government, only that government would not establish an official religion. Consider Noah Webster (1758-1843) who has been called the Father of American Scholarship and Education (also go here), or simply, the Father of American Education.

Noah Webster, the Schoolmaster of the Republic

Writing in 1788, Webster said,

In some countries the common people are not permitted to read the Bible at all. In ours, it is as common as a newspaper and in schools is read with nearly the same degree of respect.…Select passages of Scripture…may be read in schools, to great advantage.…My wish is not to see the Bible excluded from schools but to see it used as a system of religion and morality.

Returning to Engel vs. Vitale, we note that in this critical decision, the Supreme Court severed an acknowledgement of God—actually, an opportunity, not a requirement, to acknowledge Him—from the younger generation of Americans.

When a nation, in this case through its court system, kicks God out of public life, what happens? We’ve seen evidence that God steps back! We see this not only in the unraveling of American culture since the early 1960s, but also in the other two Supreme Court cases my friend Steve cited when he wrote about America’s decline.

Stay tuned!

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About “Education” (see top image; photo credit here)

At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Education benefits a nation to the greatest extent possible when it affirms each of the other four values and ideals portrayed. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.

America, Where Are You? Part 1

A Sobering Assessment

I respect the courts, but the Supreme Court is only that—the supreme of the courts. It is not the supreme being. It cannot overrule God, when it comes to prayer, when it comes to life, and when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.
Mike Huckabee


Key point: Three landmark Supreme Court decisions have helped chart America’s direction and helped define who and where we now are as a country. To help America recover her moral footing, we first need to understand just how far off the stable path these decisions have propelled our country.


For summaries of all the articles in this series, go here.

In Genesis 3:9 (go here for the context), God asked Adam a powerful question: He “called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” This question came on the heels of Adam’s and Eve’s disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It came for Adam’s benefit—not because God was looking for either Adam or Eve. Adam needed to assess where he now was in terms of his relationship with God, and, as it would turn out, in his relationships with everything else.

God Judging Adam by William Blake, 1795

The beginning of a new year gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on where we are in terms of our relationship with God—not just individually, but also as churches, nationally, and culturally. We need to take advantage of this opportunity. Accordingly, this will be the theme of this series of articles.

Steve, a friend and coworker of mine, reads my posts regularly and encourages me a great deal. A few months ago, he told me he would like to write a piece reflecting his own thoughts about where America is right now and what can be done about it. On November 11 of last year, he emailed me an article consisting of 338 words. Steve not as “long-winded” as I am.

President Trump and his wife Melania visit a Las Vegas shooting victim

My friend began by citing the recent mass killings at the First Baptist Church of Southern Springs, Texas on November 5 and at a Las Vegas concert on October 1. These incidents left 84 people dead and 566 injured. To what can we attribute these horrific events? Are some people just that mean? Do we need stricter gun laws?1 Steve indicated that if we go down these paths, we totally miss the main message of the larger picture. He wrote,

Three events in the USA’s past are keystone moments in the history of our great nation.

The Authority of Law Statue at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC

First, in 1962, the Supreme Court ruled unfavorably regarding prayer in schools.

Second, in 1973, the Supreme Court made murder of our most helpless citizens legal.

Finally, in 2015, our nation, again through the Supreme Court, declared that people of the same sex could marry.

These three events present a drastic change from the attitudes expressed by the Founding Fathers during the last half of the 1700s.


The Declaration of Independence acknowledges, affirms, and upholds “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” yet on numerous occasions, the Supreme Court of the United States has thoroughly rebuffed them.


To murder, to not be allowed to pray, and blaspheme the institution of marriage by making legal an act that God calls an abomination is a dangerous set of events. Historically, in the Bible when people take these paths, destruction follows.

In the book of Romans, the last 15 verses of chapter 1 describe the current state of the culture of the United States. Our nation has been given over to itself in its wickedness.

Then my friend essentially said this:

America has a chance to make a change for righteousness and to be saved from destruction, but needed changes will occur, not primarily through the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of our government, as important as the decisions made in all of these institutions are. The changes that must occur to make America truly great again will come when people of faith turn to God.


The changes that must occur to make America truly great again will come when people of faith turn to God.


The church has to be concerned about reaching people—I get that. And it must reach younger generations if it is to survive in the long term. Yet in its well-intentioned efforts to reach the young, it has become a place of entertainment rather than a place where the truth is upheld, a place where people can find a large gym to maintain physical fitness but not discover the gutsy challenges of the gospel, and a place that all too often seeks to be “relevant” over being authentically truthful.

Upholding the Truth in Love

Is there hope for this country? Yes! But to be the lighthouse this nation needs, the church must repent of its entertainment mentality and once again uphold the truth of Scripture, all the while demonstrating genuine love.


To be the lighthouse America needs, the church must repent of its entertainment mentality and once again uphold the truth of Scripture, all the while demonstrating genuine love.


Concluding, Steve cited two verses of Scripture—one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, the Lord declared, “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

While we must remember that God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 was extended to His people—those making up the nation of Israel—and that we cannot assume it applies to America in exactly the same way it applied Israel, the principle behind it does have a measure of application for the church in America in the 21st century. Similarly, in the context of Matthew 6:33, Jesus was challenging His followers not to worry about their material needs but to put God’s kingdom first. Even so, the principle of putting God’s kingdom first and of God’s taking care of everything else still is valid and has points of application for the church and the culture today.

Is Steve right in his assessment? I believe he is, and in future posts, I’ll explain why. We’ll look at each of the Supreme Court cases he cites, and then at the state of the church.

Be sure to return next time.

 

top image: www.lightstock.com

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Note:

1While this isn’t a post on the effects of gun-control laws, this article offers some important insights on that subject.