By Ron Halbrook
In five years of school teaching, the first topic of study I have presented to every history class is “The Divine Rule of the Universe.” This rule includes His appointment of and power over civil government. “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will” — even “the times” and “the bounds” of nations are in his Hand! 1
While Christians might seek to be His providential instruments by some participation in government, we must be cautious in assuming He is for or against some particular ruler, law, or plan. “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” His thoughts and ways are often far different from ours.2 Thus, brother Franklin wrote in 1856,
Jesus and his apostles … never attempted to correct the political institutions of the country, no matter how corrupt they were . . . When acting as a citizen of the civil government, be candid, quiet, peaceable, and kind, and do just what you think right, allowing every man the same privilege, as Christ has left us all free here, and leave the event with God. 3
God has been invoked as a sponsor on both sides of every political issue: (1) Patrick Henry spoke of “God” arming the colonies to revolt “in the holy cause of liberty,” but many an Anglican pulpit thundered with Gods condemnation on the rebels; 4 (2) since the Constitution recognized slavery, William Garrison called it “an agreement with hell,” while others defended slavery as “commanded by God;”5 (3) Henry Clay and others were sure that tariff laws were necessary to fulfill the “design” and “the order of Providence ” to sustain both “the wealth and morals of the community,” while “the gentleman from South Carolina,” Robert Hayne, was sure that “natures God” had the opposite plan in mind. 6 (4) Southerners like “Rev.” W. T. Hall of Miss. thought the South was compelled to fight the Northern invader because “the very authority of Gods word was at issue,” 7 yet Julia Ward Howe wrote a song to inspire the marching “invader,” in which she saw in him “the glory of the coming of the Lord … Our God is marching on;” 8 (5) the womans vote movement was seen as “the spirit of infidel reform … in … contempt of the providence of God,” but as an example of the ameliorating influence of Gods Word by others; 9 (6) the gold or silver standard issue, social integration issues, and a host of others could be cited.
Now we must add (7) those who have mobilized churches to support the Prayer Amendment, as though it was unquestionably Gods legislation, and those who indicate that to be truly “spiritual,” each Christian had “better get with the letter writing” against the Amendment. To express ones opinion on the Amendment is one thing. To assert that spirituality depends on accepting this opinion, that there is something appalling about Christians not accepting it, or that all “concerned Christians” will accept it, is something else! Brethren Wallace Little and Lyn Trapp might well have observed this important distinction when expressing their opinions on such politically-related matters. We are glad to consider their recent articles.10 Yet, we beg to differ without implying someone else is spiritually anemic or even lacking in concern for Americas freedoms.
1. The brethren say it is foolish to press “for the right of prayer in public school ” because the courts ruled against only “those . . . sponsored by public officials.”
The Supreme Court decision put many educators on notice that there was a trend in power circles to honor atheistic whims (remember who brought the case!); thus, schools did away with prayer and Bible reading in many places, as a precaution against further legal action.
Educators fears were justified and the courts went further than our brethren realize, as Rep. Wylie (Amendment sponsor) points out. “The ludicrous extreme to which the courts have arrived is exemplified by the Netcong case which said students could not meet in a gymnasium before school” for public prayer.11
The Amendment would remove this intimidation, doom future legal efforts of such nature, and simply restore a practice which was Constitutional for 171 years! In fact, Rep. Wylie is willing to let the Amendment die if his near-win influences “the lower courts and school officials (to) permit voluntary prayer in public schools … then the problem will have been resolved.” 12
2. Our brethren see a Catholic plot in the effort of ” Citizens for Public Prayer, a Roman Catholic front group led … by Roman Catholic priest, Robert H. Howes.” 13 The long-range plan is for Catholics to define what prayers will be allowed.
This writer knows Catholicism tries to manipulate our government for its advantage. But the evidence is lacking in this case. Catholicism evidently sees no advantage to itself in this. Rep. Drinan of Mass. voted against the Amendment. Why? “I am following the counsel and policy laid down by the U.S. Catholic Conference. I am abiding by their wisdom. Thats the whole explanation.” 13 The U.S.C.C. includes all Catholic bishops in the country I Catholicism thus flexed its tremendous muscle to defeat the Amendment. “Ill give you one guess as to which religion swings enough political clout to have the deciding voice” on whether the Prayer Amendment succeeds or fails.
3. The long-range plot is to succeed by interpreting “any public building which is supported in whole or in part through … public funds” to include “church buildings provided police or fire protection.” Then, Catholics in office will define what prayers are to be allowed-or required (?), a distinction overlooked by our brethren-in church buildings. Our brethren ask if we are ready to be told what prayers are allowed “within the four walls of your building.”
Government control based on a concept of subsidized buildings is feared. A stretching, yea twisting, of the concept of a “public building” and the intent of the law – – which can happen only by a lack of respect for the law in those who govern — is seen on the horizon. Without respect for the law, the provisions of our Constitution are nothing but “parchment barriers.” 14 Historically, unprincipled men in office always have been able to get around such provisions. Besides, politics, often called “the art of the possible,” is much more a creature of expediency than of principle.
Hitler declared a state of national emergency under Article 48 of the German Constitution, which gave him dictatorial power under such conditions — only the emergency never ended! Political activists in high offices have brought social, and even political, change by fiat. John Kennedy viewed our Constitution as outdated and thus unreliable for the 20th century; 15 Is the Supreme Court has been “using the Constitution to bring the nation to . . . practice which the Court thinks to be the ideal” rather than faithfully interpreting it. 16 Such leaders will do what they wish as far as their power permits when they lack respect for the law. They do riot need a lawful statement on paper and they will not be stopped by one.
All of which leads to this. The Supreme Court has already ruled that “it is hardly lack of due process of law for the government to regulate that which it subsidizes.” 17 Thus, the courts could control churches right now by merely defining churches as public buildings, in that they are subsidized (in the stretched sense-fire protection, etc. 1. The rationalization is already there. In fact, it is there with or without the subsidized building concept (and certainly with or without the Amendment!). The interstate commerce clause with the elastic clause can be made to mean nearly anything by political activists. These powers coupled with the general welfare clause would be amply sufficient to do all Brother Little fears.
Only the myriad checks on, and division of, powers instituted by our Founding Fathers, and the gracious providence of God, continues to protect us. The Prayer Amendment would not likely increase the dangers discussed, for it prohibits government interference with a specific, individual participation in prayer in public places. Yet~ it could be twisted, like any law, by unscrupulous men.
4. The brethren fear “nondenominational prayer” will be defined by Catholics. The definition will first come by local officials and educators. Only if some such decision is challenged would federal courts, and finally the Supreme Court, be involved. When this happened (and when is important–compare the 50s to the new Court), many factors and pressures would enter in, and it is correct to fear Catholic pressure. Too, we need to know a greater power enters into such matters providentially.
It is important to remember that the Amendment attempts to add nothing new, but only to restore a general freedom of practice, according to local and personal desires, which was understood to be Constitutional for 171 years in our schools.
5. “Lawfully assembled” is said to be “redundant” and “carries certain ominous overtones.” “How else would anyone assemble? This is part of the conspiracy seen; no group would use prayer and songs in connection with riots and looting; so, why the terms lawfully assembled if not to conspire and trick? “
Those who have lived where religious activities have indeed been used as a pretext and cover for defiant marches, immorality, riots, and worse can well appreciate the wisdom of “lawfully assembled”! An amendment guaranteeing the right of prayer in any public place would seem to give lawful defense to an assembly in the middle of a Chicago freeway, in the view of certain groups and liberal judges.
6. Gaston Gogdell, Director of the Organization for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is quoted as saying the Amendment makes “public Schools” agencies for teaching “state religion.” It thus implies tax support for parochial schools.
Again, we point out the Amendment is designed to restore an understanding of the Constitution which went practically unchallenged for 171 years. Any other use that might be made would come by twisting. And the twisters will find something to twist, when their time and power is right, with or without the Prayer Amendment. The amendment returns us to what we had before the courts began their recent trend-which did not include state religion or tax funds for parochial schools.
In conclusion, God does not teach sinners to pray for remission of sins. But, He blesses rulers (and their nations) who recognize Him as their Superior and who implore His aid. 18 Until a stronger case of cause (Prayer Amendment) and effect loss of freedom to worship) is shown, I do not intend to write any letters objecting to the proposed Amendment; this does not imply any lack of spirituality in those who disagree.
Our schools and governments, at all levels, need leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, who spoke to that brave band gathered in Constitutional Convention concerning Divine Providence and the need of prayer. Their work was about to end in futility after a month of haggling; Franklins appeal changed the whole mood of the Convention, and we are all indebted to him for the results. May we ever live in an atmosphere where such requests as he made can be honored in all sorts of public gatherings:
“In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illumine our understanding? … To . . . kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?
“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His Notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? ….
“I, therefore, beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning we proceed to business. . .” 19
1. Dan. 4:17; Acts 17:26
2. Rom. 11:33; Isa. 55:8-9
3. David E. Harrell, Jr., Quest for a Christian America, Vol. 1 (1966), p. 58.
4. T. A. Bailey (ed.), The American Spirit, Vol. I (1903 1. pp. 97, 116; American Loyalists warned a Catholic take-over would follow in the wake of Americas alliance with France and implied that every lover of religious freedom would oppose the alliance, p. 115.
5. Fremont P. Wirth, The Development of America (1956), pp. 349-351.
6. Calvin Colton, The Life & Times of Henry Clay, Vol. 11 (1846), pp. 138-332.
7. Richard M. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay (1971), p. 208.
8. H. A. Bruce, Woman In the Making of America (1926), pp. 214-216.
9. Richard M. Weaver, Ibid., p. 145 footnote.
10. Gospel Guardian (Jan. 20, 72), p. 7; Preceptor (Jan. 72), p. 9; Truth (Feb. 24 &May 11, 72) pp. 8 & 10; Searching the Scriptures (May, 72), p. 1.
11. Human Events wspaper (Dec. 4 7 1), p. 6.
14. James Madison in No. 48 of The Federalist Papers.
15. David Lawrence, “Downgrading the Constitution,” U.S. News & World (Dec. 17, 62), p. 104
16. “How Supreme Court Is Changing U.S.,” Ibid. (Jan. 18, 65), p. 58
17. Majority decision written by Justice R. H. Jackson in Agricultural Adjustment Act Case of 1942.
18. Prov. 14:34; 16:12; Ecc. 10:16-17; Dan. 4:34-37; 6:25-26; Rom. 13:1-7.
19. Benjamin Weiss, God in American History (1966), pp. 36-39.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 42, pp. 7-10
August 31, 1972