The Prayer Police

What country might this be? Government officials prowl school hallways and classrooms, on the lookout for students who might pray, read the Bible, or discuss God with their classmates. Students caught violating the anti-religion laws are swiftly punished. China? Iran? No—America. Alabama, to be specific. A judge there recently ordered a government monitor into DeKalb County schools to ensure that kids don’t engage in any outlawed religious practices. The case is a vivid demonstration that religious liberty is in peril in America today. For 35 years, notwithstanding Supreme Court decisions, public school students in DeKalb County, Alabama, have been praying and studying their Bibles openly in the classroom. In 1993 Alabama passed a voluntary school prayer law to explicitly permit prayer at the beginning of the school day and the opening of football games. Not surprisingly a lawsuit was filed by the parent of a student who attends a DeKalb County school. Last March, federal Judge Ira DeMent ordered the school board to stop any activity that even remotely suggested official approval of religion. In response, DeKalb students, with tacit approval of school officials, did what many of us would like to do: They ignored the judge—and kept praying. Judge DeMent then tightened the screws. Last month he issued an injunction that prohibits "religious activity in class, including vocal prayer, Bible and… devotional… readings, distribution of religious… announcements, and discussions of a devotional… nature regardless of whether it [is] initiated by students." The judge also took the unprecedented step of ordering government monitors into the schools to nab students who commit the crime of praying or cracking open their Bibles in class. As legal scholar Russell Hittinger put it, "incredibly, the… judge would have a network of spies, like secret police, to patrol the schools, reporting any expressions of religion." The edict outraged DeKalb residents, and they’re letting the world know how they feel about the "prayer police." Twenty-three students were recently suspended for defiantly praying around the flagpole. A keep-prayer-in-school rally attracted 2,000 people. The "prayer police" are the direct result of the courts having exceeded their constitutional authority. In 1947 the Supreme Court threw out 160 years of history and ruled that the Constitution requires neutrality between religion and irreligion, not just between competing religions. Secularism became the law of the land. The only way we can hope to reverse this misappropriation of the Constitution is to show our secularized elites that we’re not going to take it any more. The people of DeKalb County are pioneers on a trail that we may all have to walk down if our religious freedom is to be preserved. So three cheers for the folks in DeKalb County. You and I can do our part by urging our congressmen to reenact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, thrown out by the Supreme Court last summer. If we don’t, we may all soon wake up in a country we don’t recognize. One that will stamp out all vestiges of religious expression—and send the "prayer police" into all our schools.


Chuck Colson


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