Sam Bartlett, a player on the football team of Madison County High School, is happy that his school capitulated to a lawsuit over two scriptural passages on a monument outside the football stadium. He sees this as an opportunity to bring God’s message to a much broader audience. He wants this story spread.
Yes. Let’s do exactly what this kid wants. Let’s share this story far and wide. Let us shout from the rooftops how kids in this small school in Georgia can still pray to the God they believe in. They always could, and they still can. Let us celebrate that it is their choice who they should pray to, rather than being subject to the dictates of their coach, principal, or school board. Let us rejoice that this story is an example of liberty triumphing over peer-pressure-induced conformity. Let us proclaim that the kids in this school are now free to pray based on their own beliefs and consciences, based on how they were raised or what they have decided, rather than based on the peer pressure of the majority surrounding them.
Let us repeat Sam Bartlett’s story far and wide. It is an important object lesson. It teaches us how easy it is to mistake the fall of unjust privilege for oppression. The white man lost this privilege at the end of the Civil War. Men lost this privilege with women’s suffrage. And it was hard to adjust to the new way-of-things, just as it is hard for Sam Bartlett to lose his state of privilege as his school becomes finally neutral toward religion. We must always remember how hard it is to be on the wrong side of history, particularly when it is through the fault of upbringing rather than one’s own decisions.
Sam’s story, his feelings of loss and rebellion, are utterly natural. He represents a potent, pervasive worldview in our society, and we must not lose sight of that.
As religious freedom marches forward, we must go to great lengths to remember that Sam is not the enemy. We need to remind him, gently if possible, that we have not taken away his ability to worship how he pleases. Though I do not share his belief in God, I would fight to the death to protect that right of his to worship in accordance with his beliefs. He needs to have his eyes opened to the fact that this right is still his. Everyone that feels threatened by the onward march of religious neutrality must be reassured that their rights are not being taken from them.
So yes, Sam is right in one very important respect… we must share his story far and wide, because he is not alone in feeling the way he does. Wrong as he is about the rightful place of God in the public schools, he, and millions like him, have confused his religion’s loss of favored status with an attack on the religion itself. This is utterly false. Sam can believe, worship, and pray. He can do so with like-minded peers if they so choose. And I applaud anyone that does so of their own free will.
And that is the fundamental point, which even the religious should be able to see, which is why Sam’s story must be disseminated. Belief must be a choice rather than a default. If it is simply the thing that is always done before a football game, then it is hardly meaningful.
If religion is important to you, then show it. Stop diminishing its value by expecting everyone to follow your rituals. Make praying before a game mean something again… by recognizing that the meaning is lost when everyone is expected to do it.