Why Practical Atheism?
So why have our schools become islands of practical atheism? The short answer is simple: The courts have recently imposed an atheistic interpretation of the First Amendment upon them.
It hasn’t always been so. History shows that the First Amendment’s prohibition against the “establishment” of religion was designed simply to prevent the U. S. as a nation from identifying with a particular Christian denomination. We can easily see this in the fact that established state churches (e.g., the Congregational Church in Massachussets) continued unhindered well into the 19th century.
In recent years, however, the Supreme Court has tended to interpret the disestablishment clause, not as erecting a wall of separation between the federal government and a particular denomination, but between the state and God. In some sectors of public life (e.g., Congress, the military, etc.), the wall has yet to be raised very high. In the case of public schools, however, the courts have determined that their activities must advance strictly “secular” purposes. This view rules out even non-sectarian prayer, as well as the study of creationism, school-based chaplains, etc. In other words, it mandates practical atheism.
In my mind, this judicial trend raises an important question: Are we really atheists? In other words, is what we now must do (or not do) in the schools really reflective of our spiritual posture as a people and the intentions of the founding fathers?
Certainly not according to Mr. Gallup, who has found that over 90% of Americans profess faith in a Supreme Being. And certainly not according to the Declaration of Independence, or our U.S. Constitution, both of which affirm the existence of a divine creator and moral governor of the nations. And certainly not according to the practice of other public institutions, such as Congress, the Supreme Court, and the armed forces, where God is regularly acknowledged and His blessings invoked.
It would appear, then, that as a nation we are not really atheists. But if not, what can be done to align the practice of our schools with who we really are? Here are a few concluding suggestions.