When Atheists Criticize School Prayer, It’s Not Because We’re ‘Offended’ June 1, 2013

When Atheists Criticize School Prayer, It’s Not Because We’re ‘Offended’

On his show this week, Glenn Beck spoke about Jonathan Hardwick‘s Christian graduation prayer at Lincoln County High School and the fact that atheist students successfully stopped a formal prayer from taking place at the ceremony. Beck argued that atheists tried to stop it because they were offended… and no one has a right not to be offended:

After playing a clip of the prayer and the audience’s rousing applause, Beck says:

I think the school should get a very clear message that the people… in this town say “Enough is enough.” Now, that’s not a hateful thing against atheists… It’s really not. I don’t understand — I really don’t understand… You don’t have the right to not be offended. My gosh…

You know who’s going to survive in the end?… I contend it will be the people of faith or the people who are currently being ostracized because of their point of view. The people who this system has beaten up and told to shut up for a very long time. Because there’s not hatred in our hearts…

He says a bunch of other nonsensical things, too — what’s new? — but let’s talk for a moment about the “offended” comment. We hear that a lot, every time an atheist speaks up about a violation of church/state separation, right-wingers love to say their prayers are made in good faith and they’re not trying to offend anybody so stop being offended.

Of course, “offense” has little to do with it. That’s not why we file lawsuits or make big deals out of these situations. It’s about not letting the majority’s religion become the school’s official religion, which a formal prayer does. It’s about making a ceremony that’s supposed to be for everybody truly inclusive. It’s about honoring the Constitution when Christians try to override it — something you would think even Beck would appreciate.

It doesn’t matter what the prayer sounded like or what the intentions of the speaker were. Even if Christians dominate the community, they have no right to turn a public school ceremony into another church service. What Hardwick did may have been considered private, protected speech, but he inadvertently slammed non-Christians in the process. (Keep in mind that Beck thinks Christians are the ones being ostracized in all of this.) It’s much worse, though, when the prayer comes from a school official.

Beck’s commentary doesn’t really even make sense — again, what’s new? — since the atheists who stopped the formal invocation prayers weren’t “offended” in the first place:

Bradley Chester, a graduating senior, is an atheist and one of the students who approached [Principal Tim] Godbey about not having prayer at graduation.

“I feel like you shouldn’t force your religion upon anybody,” Chester said in an interview with WKYT in Lexington. “And a lot of people are saying if there are prayers at graduation, you don’t have to participate, you can sit there and not listen, close your ears. Well, one, it’s my graduation. I shouldn’t have to close my ears.

“This is a place for school, not a church. I feel like I’m graduating from Lincoln County High, not Lincoln County Church.”

Chester and his allies wanted to make their graduation comfortable for everybody. They didn’t want the school to announce that God didn’t exist; they just wanted a ceremony that didn’t elevate one religion to a special level and they were right to do that.

Hardwick and Beck may not be capable of putting themselves in the shoes of people who don’t believe in God, but atheists know the feeling of exclusion very well. Even if the majority of people in the audience wanted to hear it, the prayers were better left said in the car on the way to the event, not at the microphone during it.

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