But deliver us from evil of prayer in the schools

August 29, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

I would have guessed that any teacher would have been delighted with a new law in Georgia that requires all students to sit silently for as much as one minute at the beginning of each school day.

In many classes, that minute might be the last long moment without jabbering, mumbling, giggling, grunting, groaning and other sounds common to young creatures.

But Brian Bown, a teacher in the Georgia town of Snellville, thinks otherwise. He refused to ask his students to sit in silent meditation and has been suspended.

Bown believes that the moment of silence is a sly way to get students to pray, although the Georgia law specifically says that it isn't intended to be used for religious purposes.

Since organized prayer is not allowed in public schools, Bown says he would violate his beliefs and conscience if he told his students to observe a moment of silence.

So now he has become the latest symbol in the endless battle over the issue of prayer in the public schools.

This has always struck me as being a silly controversy, since any American has the right to silently pray anywhere and anytime.

And if students were questioned and answered truthfully, many would admit that they pray in school on their own. They pray for all sorts of things: that the teacher won't ask them a question, that they stay awake, that the class thug will not torment them during lunch break, or that they fulfill their carnal desires with the cute thing in the next row.

But in some parts of this country, especially the South, many parents can't stop fretting and fussing because a teacher isn't telling their offspring to bow their heads and ask the good Lord for something or other.

You would think these God-fearing folk would be content to have their children say a morning prayer in the kitchen before eating their grits. And they could lead them in prayer before dinner, during TV commercials and before they go to bed. And they can haul them to church on Sunday and have them pray and hoot and holler and sing and weep and wail and splash in water and cast out the devil and play with snakes and anything else they deem necessary for leading a decent life.

But for some reason, that isn't enough for them. They insist that a teacher should assume some responsibility for the spiritual growth of their little boogers.

That's never made sense to me. These parents don't ask the school bus driver to lead prayers. Or the truant officer, school engineer, crossing guard, school nurse or marijuana dealer. So why ask a teacher to do it?

A teacher has no greater theological standing than, say, a bartender. And I would wager that most of these parents wouldn't think of walking into their favorite Bubba's Roadhouse and Cafe and asking the bartender to lead the patrons in prayer. I have been in many a Southern honky-tonk, and not once have I heard a prayer uttered by any of the God-fearing rustics, even when they begin swatting each other with bottles, a favorite rural pastime.

Nor do they tell their teen-agers to pray when they go to a movie, a football game, a stock car race, or when they drive their Chevy to the levee to drink some beer.

These parents, and the politicians who pander to them, don't seem to understand the potential for strife and chaos that school prayer carries with it.

If prayers were allowed, everyone would have to be permitted to pray to the deity of her choice. That means a student would be permitted to worship devils, demons, forest pixies, the moon, the spirit of Elvis or any other danged thing.

How would these parents react if their little darlin' came home and said: "During prayer today, that Festus Dudd started praying real loud to Mumba, the lord of lust and dirty deeds. Then he pinched little Nell. Say, Pa, why can't we go to that church?" Well, you can bet Pa would swallow his chaw. So would Ma.

On the other hand, that Snellville teacher seems to be overreacting. While he might be correct in suspecting that the Georgia legislature is trying to sneak prayer into the schools by way of that minute of silence, there is no reason to believe that the students will use it for that purpose. They are more likely to just sit back and think about performing foul deeds, crude acts and other recreational activities. That's the way young madcaps are.

All the teacher has to do is watch them grin when the minute of silence is over.

You don't grin if you've been thinking about salvation.

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