Fox News reported that U.S. District Judge Fred Biery has ruled that participants in Medina Valley High School’s graduation ceremony cannot pray, invoke the name of God, say “amen,” and that the program itself must change certain words on its program that may give off religious connotations. Of course, being Fox News, the entire story isn’t being told. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between the two:
Or we could turn to the local San Antonio news, which directly contradicts the claims that Fox News makes. So what’s a Christian to make of all of this?
If it’s true that the judge ordered individuals to not even say the name of God or invoke any religious symbols in their speech, then he is wrong (though I somehow doubt this is the case and suspect that Fox News is embellishing the story…I know, shocking). After all, while I may not believe in Allah, or accept atheism, or believe in any one of the Hindu gods, if a graduate wants to thank one of those gods, or Allah, or thank himself and say, “because God doesn’t exist,” then so be it. It’s his right to do so and if it offends me, then tough.
When it becomes wrong is when the act of prayer (or the cessation of prayer) is compulsory. If the school were forcing others to participate in the prayer then this would be a direct violation of their rights. But so is preventing students from praying in public, so long as they do not force others to bow their heads or join in.
But aside from all of the legal aspects of the case, from a Christian perspective why would we want prayer to be compulsory at a graduation ceremony or even in schools? Yes, there is power in prayer, but that power comes from the faith behind the prayer. Forcing people to pray to a God they don’t believe in accomplishes nothing except alienation. While it makes us look like a spiritual nation, it doesn’t make us spiritual. Prayer is a product of faith, so why would we force those who lack faith to engage in prayer when this will only ostracize them even more and possibly make them bitter towards Christianity?
In the end, while we should hope for a culture that is closer to God, we should hope that those in our culture voluntarily come to Christ, not through legal pressure. We can’t force a culture to act virtuous or to fall in love with Christ; they must choose these things.