Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any State to participate in prayer. Neither the United States nor any State shall prescribe the content of any such prayer.
The words “Nothing in this Constitution” are crucial, and of those “nothing” is worthy of the most concern. These words matter because they overrule all other previous elements of the Constitution, including ones that safeguard American minorities against the tyranny of pushy, proselytizing majorities. The 1st Amendment, which prohibits the use of government to establish religion? Overruled by this Amendment. The 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under law? Overruled by this Amendment. The demand in Article VI of the Constitution that there be no religious test for office or public trust in the United States? Overruled by this Amendment, if Jo Ann Emerson gets her way.
The Emerson Amendment states that no individual person shall be forced to participate in prayer, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that students at public elementary schools, for instance, couldn’t be forced to witness such prayer over and over again at assemblies and over the PA and through distributed tracts. If this Amendment were to become part of the Constitution, there would be nothing to bar public school principals from being hired on the basis of their willingness to stand in front of the school every day and offer loud, public prayers to Jesus. There would be nothing to bar public school principals from hiring teachers on the basis of their willingness to stand in front of their classes every hour to offer prayerful thanks to the principal’s parochial understanding of God. There would be nothing to bar public school districts from allocating large sums of public money for proselytizing prayer-based religious education of students in public schools. All “voluntary” nominally, to be sure. All meant to push a religion upon others…
…because prayers that do not impose upon others are already constitutionally protected. Jo Ann Emerson, the principal sponsor of this Constitutional Amendment, mentions schools in particular because she knows that the minds of school children are malleable to influence. Even when school prayer is “voluntary,” if it is ever-present it will have its effect. Government schools (and other public institutions) will be turned into agents of whichever church has the greatest numbers, the most money and the most powerful lobbyists.
If you think this is perfectly reasonable because you think that the United States is “a Christian nation,” consider that there are neighborhoods in this country where Christianity is not the majority religion. Do you want Christian kids in American public schools toted to assemblies where the principal extols the virtue of the Five Pilllars of Islam in regular prayer? Do you want born again kids forced to listen to teachers chanting some Wiccan Rede? Does this help you understand what a tangled web of spaghetti this amendment would toss this country into, and why it’s better not just for liberty but for our frazzled civic nerves to leave religion out of our public schools?