On January 16, 2020, the Donald issued a statement saying, “We’re proudly announcing historic steps to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools.” He also reiterated his commitment to religion in schools again in his State of the Union speech. The Donald’s defense of the “right to pray” includes nine proposed rule changes from federal agencies and a clear process for people to report when constitutionally protected prayer is denied. The new guidelines were outlined in a meeting from the Oval Office that also featured accounts of religious discrimination from Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish students.
But what does this actually mean for America? As I outlined in a previous blog post, our country was founded upon a fundamental Biblical principle: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” In short, there should exist a clear divide between the authority of our government and the authority of religious practice—irrespective of what religion any American citizen chooses to follow.
The Donald’s defense of the right to pray stemmed from what he viewed as “a growing totalitarian impulse on the far left that seeks to punish, restrict, and even prohibit religious expression,” but most of the students’ accounts of religious discrimination fell within our existing legal conception of the divide between the church and state; in all the cases, the school officials who pressured the students eventually backed down.
Where the Donald’s position gets more interesting, however, is in considering what he truly means when he says that “We will not let anyone push God from the public square.” The Donald intends to put God “back” in our schools—whether he ever left is a question I won’t deign to answer. But do we really think that Trump truly means that students should be allowed to worship God, Allah, Yahweh, or any other god of their choosing?
If he does, why not have the federal government mandate that at the start of each school day, students pray to all gods—God, Allah, Yahweh, Ahura Mazda, Buddha, and all the others? What better way to ensure that God is not pushed from the public square than to mandate the proper respect for all gods within our schools?