Free exercise

Brandt Siegfried, Online Editor

Separation of church and state; while most high school students cite this phrase when they think of the Constitution, it’s actually one of the most misunderstood principles of American government.

For starters, the Constitution never actually says the words “separation of church and state.” Thomas Jefferson was the first to coin this phrase in a letter to describe the role of organized religion in the new American republic. In fact, Jefferson was assuring a Baptist congregation that the state would refrain from interfering in religious affairs, not the other way around.

The First Amendment actually says the following about religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Congress, which has been incorporated to include all units of government, cannot create a state church or favor religious sects over one another. Additionally, the government cannot prohibit citizens from practicing their chosen faith. That’s the law.

The intention of these provisions (known as the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause) is not to erase religion from the public sphere, but rather to allow a neutral environment in which to express it. Those who tout the separation of church and state use it especially to bully faith out of public schools; unfortunately, that perspective clearly misconstrues the intention of an amendment written to protect such speech in the first place.

At LT today, faith in school is a precarious matter. While I do not believe the atmosphere is hostile towards students who decide to practice their religion in school, I feel as though LT is not particularly supportive of these students either. I think most students feel awkward praying in front of peers, and this must change. Everyone has a right to express his or her faith in school; it’s protected by the Constitution and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.

Practice your religious customs in school without shame. If you pray before your meals, feel free to do so at school; I promise it’s not illegal. If you wear a yarmulke, turban or hijab, wear it proudly. During the daily moment of silence, you should feel welcome to say a prayer if you choose. Every morning when I’m on the other end of the PA I pray the Lord’s Prayer, so you’ll have enough time.

On Ash Wednesday, I saw a decent number of students proudly sporting ashes on their foreheads; that proves to me that we haven’t completely lost the rights enumerated in our Constitution. Just remember: the rights we fail to exercise are the ones that we lose first. Religious freedom must never fall by the wayside.