The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“And All the Students Said, ‘Amen’” — Keisha Russell

Keisha Toni Russell, Counsel at First Liberty Institute, argues that young Americans learn to respect religious liberty–and individual rights more generally–when religion flourishes in public.

Some excerpts:

“In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court reviewed two cases involving voluntary school prayer and Bible reading. The cases, Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963), contained little case law to support the Court’s novel perspective that the Establishment Clause required that public schools never engage in or even permit any religious activities.”

“These decisions banishing prayer in schools were part of the same legal philosophy that birthed the Lemon test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). The Lemon test erroneously interpreted the Constitution’s Establishment Clause to mean that the government must always act with a predominately secular purpose with minimal tolerance for religious activities on government property.”

By offering a voluntary prayer, the government introduces its students to religion in a way that is not coercive or intrusive. It is, rather, a traditional acknowledgement of religion, even if it simply constitutes a recognition of the theistic origins of our unalienable rights.

The stories about Coach Kennedy, Hannah Allen, and Elizabeth Turner expose the poor harvest that we have reaped by our neglecting to cultivate religious tolerance in our schools. We must educate students to value religious freedom.  Instead, we are teaching generations of children to believe that religion is not welcome in the public square. When we instill such disdain for religion, our youth inevitably fail to understand that religious freedom is the cornerstone of every other human right. Eventually, as those students become our nation’s leaders, their lack of respect for religious freedom may well lead to the end of other freedoms as well.

As history reveals, the totalitarian dictatorships in countries like the Soviet Union, Communist China, and Nazi Germany began with religious persecution. The tyrant cannot control groups or citizens who believe there is an Authority higher than government. In sharp contrast, our Constitution honors religious freedom as the first freedom because no other rights will survive without it.

Read the full piece here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790