To The Point

July 07, 2008

Just say no

Society long ago reconciled itself to a bright line between religion and academics in public school classrooms. The courts recognized that even when students aren't obliged to pray at specific times, the pressure to conform exerts a powerful coercive influence.

Now nine midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis who object to the school's traditional lunchtime prayer have asked the American Civil Liberties Union for help ending the practice, which they say forces them to risk losing the respect of their peers or forgoing leadership opportunities if they follow their conscience.

One might ask what's so onerous about standing with bowed head through the short prayer, even if one is not a believer. These are not children but college-age adults, after all, and that should make a difference, even granting that midshipmen may feel the moral dilemma more keenly because the ceremony is part of their indoctrination into the military's discipline and esprit de corps.

The Navy is the most tradition-bound branch of the services, and it may yet be forced to give up this time-honored ritual. Still, the Army and the Air Force no longer make public prayer a regular part of cadet life at their respective service academies, and they seem none the worse for it.

The Naval Academy likely will weather this storm, too, no matter how the issue is ultimately resolved.

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