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A Politically Incorrect Prayer
OPINION

Putting God’s Wisdom Back In The Classroom

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan

Perhaps the single biggest factor contributing to America’s rising crime rate can be traced back to 1962. That was when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a voluntary, non-denominational prayer recited by school kids in New York State classrooms violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

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For the record, the prayer that ignited that controversy reads as follows: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” 

These 22 words were so repellant to Steven Engel, a founding member of the New York Civil Liberties Union, that he became the lead plaintiff in the effort to prohibit the recitation of them. After years of dogged effort, Engel succeeded in preventing children from acknowledging God in school. 

What has replaced prayer in schools during the 61 years since the Engel v. Vitale decision? New York City Mayor Eric Adams knows. Adams, a retired NYPD captain, told the city’s religious leaders during an Interfaith Breakfast in Manhattan earlier this month, "When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”

Adams is not exactly a card carrying member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, so his observation cannot be dismissed as some nascent conservative push for an American theocracy. Whether he was hinting at actual policy or simply pandering to a crowd of religious people I cannot say but to his credit, he hit the nail on the head with his words.

The prayers mentioned by Adams are as varied as the people who invoke them but they are fundamentally an appeal to God, and the acknowledgement of a higher power and the wisdom that accompanies it. Such guidance takes many forms among different faiths but the world’s largest religions share the common wisdom of the 10 Commandments. 

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People who subscribe to Christianity, Islam or Judaism all believe that God revealed the 10 Commandments to Moses. These 10 simple rules address every aspect of human behavior. Additionally, many Eastern religions have analogues to the 10 Commandments. Buddhism has the 10 Precepts of morality. Hinduismhas a small number of rules for life as well, most paralleling those revealed to Moses. Sikhs follow a code of 10 Principle Beliefs. 

All these codes of conduct contain very good ideas for how to run a civil society. Pick a crime - any crime - and it’s covered by one or more of the 10 Commandments. To observe them is to cultivate harmony; to ignore them is to invite chaos and peril within society. 

The 10 Commandments begin by acknowledging one God and include several rules for proper worship. But there are six other commandments that have direct application to civil society; they address secular behavior. Suppose school children were taught six specific ideas - don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t have sex with people you’re not married to, don’t be a jerk to your parents and don’t be envious. 

These six rules cover almost all criminal behavior. Without expressing any explicit acknowledgment of any God in any faith, they would constitute a daily reminder to behave well, and doing so could be accomplished in about half a minute. It might be the most beneficial 30 seconds of classroom time on any given day, but there are hurdles to teaching children how to behave properly in society.

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The biggest hurdles to implementing such a practice are teacher unions. That’s because these six rules run counter to Marxism, and large swaths of the government education establishment are ideologically aligned with Marxist precepts. They call for agitating against family unity, encourage theft, promiscuity and violence, and require deceit and class envy. Some schools actively promote these precepts, fomenting societal disorder, and it’s done on purpose. 

Perhaps we could replace the 22 word prayer that was struck down in 1962 with 22 different words: “I will not steal, kill, or lie. I will treat my parents respectfully, abstain from sex outside marriage, and not envy others.” It would require a special kind of evil to oppose these six principles but that would not prevent Leftists from losing their collective mind. 

Nonetheless, it would be good to see schools implement a program by which these six ideas are reinforced on a daily basis. School administrators would be naturally wary of legal challenges, but the law might be on their side. A program like this would serve an ultimately secular purpose and it would be difficult to argue that teaching students civic behavior runs afoul of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. 

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The American Left is very good at coming up with new and innovative ways of destroying Western institutions. Normal people need to be no less aggressive in finding innovative ways of preserving them, and this might be one. At the very least, it would do no harm. 

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