September 13, 1999
Regulating gridiron prayer
Communities, not feds, should have control
With the start of high school football season in the 14th Congressional District, many of my constituents are upset by the fact that a long-held tradition has been taken from them by the federal courts.
This tradition, of course, is a simple, non-proselytizing prayer said shortly before the kick-off.
Many of the people who attend the games and who are now aghast at this federal intrusion have called my office seeking information. They are upset -- and rightly so -- that the utterance of a simple prayer can be prohibited, despite lip service paid to "freedom of speech." After all, they argue, doesn't the US Constitution's First Amendment strictly prohibit the federal government from interfering in the "free exercise" of religious beliefs?
Of course it does. For much of our history, we had a more proper understanding of the correct balances in regards to the Constitution. After all, the First Amendment begins with a very important phrase, "Congress shall make no laws…." This phrase was always understood to mean that while the federal government could not create federal laws restricting religion, or use federal monies to give preference to one religious order over another, it specifically does not apply to the state and local governments. In other words, under a correct reading of the Constitution, a state or local government can allow -- or prohibit -- religious expression in public places.
Yet the Constitution is also very clear in prohibiting the federal government from being involved in a lot of activities, including education. Under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, any power not specifically granted to the federal government is reserved to the states and people. Oddly, education is one such power.
And what power it is.
The ability to influence young minds is a tremendous power and awesome responsibility. Our founding fathers correctly denied the federal government this power. They wisely recognized that the people given charge with influencing the education of children should be those who are closest to the children -- parents, the community and the state.
Yet today we have casually accepted the notion of federal involvement in education, despite plummeting test sores and increasing violence -- both of which coincide with the increase in federal intrusion. As federal involvement has increased, so has the quality of education and safety declined. In fact, the Princeton Review -- the organization that oversees the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) -- said the current generation of high school seniors is less educated than their parents. A most disturbing trend.
What the Princeton Review did not mention, though, is even more significant. The most striking difference in education between these two generations has been that the parents of today's teens went through schools that had little or no federal government oversight, while their children's are replete with it.
Because so few have been willing to criticize the increasing reach into the classroom by Washington, DC, bureaucrats, it is in many ways disingenuous to criticize this latest move. If one is willing to let the federal government dictate education policy in the classroom, social policy in the cafeteria, then intervention at the gridiron should be unsurprising.
Until we expel the federal government from our schools, we can only expect them to continue to bully their desires onto the students and community, despite firmly held local beliefs and traditions.
But because Texans take their high school football -- and everything associated with it -- very seriously, perhaps the federal government has finally pushed too far. Hopefully, federal bureaucrats will be soon find themselves as unwelcome in Texas schools as they have attempted to make God.