Way back when, my sisters and I used to wait for the school bus at the end of our driveway. We had to get there early enough to make sure we didn’t miss Mr. Jones and bus No. 32, and that often meant we had to stand around for several minutes.
Kentucky-cold winter mornings were the roughest, of course. A minute felt like five. Two like 15. Where’s the bus? Did we miss it?
“C’mon bus,” we’d say. “Hurry.”
“Dear God, bring the bus before we freeze!”
So yeah, you could say we prayed for the bus.
I thought about our bus-riding days while reading in the Lexington Herald-Leader last month about the millions of public dollars Kentucky spends on transporting kids to private schools on public school buses. It’s flat-out unconstitutional, but there are well-developed arguments on the private-schools side—none that I buy.
When private school folks want to dip into public funds, claiming it’s their tax money, too, I haul out my favorite analogy: If I bulldoze my own road to town on private property because I want to avoid traffic on the state road, I can’t very well ask the state to fix my potholes. When I opted out of the public roadway, I accepted that I was on my own, expense-wise.
As you might guess, I’m also a separation-of-church-and-state guy. To me it’s the confluence of the Constitution and common sense. So when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled—a few days after the H-L article on school buses—that it’s OK to open a city council meeting with holy-for-real prayer, I dissented.
Please understand I have nothing against church or prayer—especially my church and my prayer. But I can’t help but notice that other people are partial to their prayers, spoken inside their churches. What I don’t see is the need for any of us to trot out our prayers as part of a civic meeting when we know full well our religion is not embraced by everyone.
I don’t worry about offending people who carry a Constitutional chip on their shoulder. What I worry about is shutting the people’s doors on the people. When a public entity (city council, state senate, school board, etc.) gives the official go-ahead to a specific religion at the start of a meeting, it tells those who hold other beliefs they are not a part of the crowd in charge—that they are outsiders. At worst, endorsing one religion proclaims bias. At best, it merely gives the appearance of bias.
Even if most people in an area embrace a certain religion, that doesn’t make it the official religion of the government, leaving others out in the cold. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said, “… [T]he minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect—and to violate would be oppression.”
Amen, Brother Jefferson. (The dash in the quote is mine, by the way.)
So let’s get back to the bus. Let’s say I wanted to ask my county’s fiscal court to stop giving a barrel full of public cash to, say, a private, Christian school to help pay for transporting private kids on public buses. And I plan to bring up my personal-road analogy in my request.
I go to the meeting, where I’m instructed to bow my head while the Baptist minister asks God above to guide these public officials that they might be wise in their decisions.
Yeah, they might be wise. They might be biased, too. Because that’s the way it looks. And sure, I expect every elected official to carry his or her own religious beliefs—or not—but it’s not right to establish one religion as the official faith.
It used to be unconstitutional, and I predict it will be again some day.
OK, that’s enough ranting for one blog entry.
I will say this, though: Every time my sisters and I prayed for the bus to come, it did. But not always right away. And not if we had already, you know, missed it.