School prayer foe returns as preacher

June 18, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Back in 1962, when Barbara D'Antoni was in the second grade in Wheaton, her Jewish teacher used to lead the class in the Lord's Prayer every morning.

In the third grade, Mrs. D'Antoni's class didn't pray in school anymore and she thought it was because her new teacher didn't want to.

It was really because a lawyer for William J. Murray and his mother, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, persuaded the Supreme Court of the United States to remove prayer and Bible-reading from America's public schools.

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the controversial June 17, 1963, decision.

Mr. Murray, now a 47-year-old Christian evangelist, returned to his old hometown -- where the legal battle began -- to reverse what he sees as three decades of decline that followed the day "America decided to kick God out of school."

"The moral and spiritual decline of America began in this city and we must begin America's revival in this city," Mr. Murray told 4,000 applauding worshipers last night at the Baltimore Arena, which can seat 12,392. "If we can save Baltimore we can save America. If we cannot save Baltimore, then America is lost."

And Mrs. D'Antoni and her family came from Abingdon to hear the man who now says he was a pawn in his mother's campaign to make America a godless nation.

"I couldn't miss the opportunity to hear Madalyn Murray O'Hair's son speak what he really believes," said Mrs. D'Antoni, who showed up at the free "Miracle Day '93" concert with her husband and three children. "I am here to support his cause."

Mr. Murray said his cause is to return the United States to its Christian roots.

Before prayer was taken out of public schools, he said, schools had "no metal detectors. The students were not searched for guns as they came to school. There had not been a single shooting or murder on school grounds in all of the history of Baltimore."

Mrs. D'Antoni's daughters -- 15-year-old Amy and 14-year-old Jennifer -- attend public school in Harford County and have never prayed in a classroom before the school day begins.

As Christians, they often pray silently, but say they know plenty of kids who could use some prayer in their lives.

"It would give some hope to the lost kids," said Amy. "They'd have somewhere to turn to."

Said their father, Bob D'Antoni: "Taking prayer out of the schools makes a mockery of 'In God We Trust.' "

Mr. Murray said his revival, which included gospel music like "How Great Thou Art" by world-class trumpeter Phil Driscoll, cost about $42,000 to put on, including a $16,000 one-night rental of the Arena.

To help pay for the event, ushers passed plastic collection buckets and he offered mail order video tapes of the program for $25.

"This isn't just a one night deal, just 30 years gone by and then forget about it," said Mr. Murray before the revival began. "I challenged people to bring at least one nonbeliever with them. It makes a difference to reach as many people as we can with the gospel before the last days are here."

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