State Director Linda Thorson Testifies Before the House Judiciary Committee Today in Support of Voluntary Prayer in School

By January 25, 2017North Dakota
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To the House Judiciary Committee

 In Support of HB 1275

January 25, 2017

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am Linda Thorson, the State Director for Concerned Women for America (CWA) of North Dakota.  CWA is the largest public policy women’s organization in the nation and our state.   We are here today on behalf of our North Dakota members in support of HB 1275.

This amendment which states, “A student may voluntarily pray aloud or participate in religious speech at any time before, during, or after the school day to the same extent a student may voluntarily speak or participate in secular speech,” is a statute supported by the U.S. Department of Education.  The “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” February 2003, “Section 9524 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESEA”) of 1965,” as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, requires the Secretary to issue guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. In addition, Section 9524 requires that, as a condition of receiving ESEA funds, a local educational agency (“LEA”) must certify in writing to its State educational agency (“SEA”) that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in this guidance.”[1]

The U.S. Department of Education guidelines further state, “To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech (whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker’s and not the school’s.”Religious liberty was at the forefront of our Forefathers’ minds when the Founders of our nation declared sovereignty and separation. Religious freedom is a fundamental right of every person and the bedrock of any free society. In our democratic nation, the government exists to protect the essential, inalienable right to personal conscience. For schools to deny any student something so basic is incompatible with the values upon which “The Free World” was established. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a nation where all people were given the right to exercise their beliefs — free from government intrusion. Unless there is an undeniable interest for involvement, the same should be true today.

Our inherent liberties are threatened by opponents of religious freedom because some have taken statements, such as “the impregnable wall” and “separation of church and state” and made them pseudo-rule of law, even though these phrases are not found in any line of our nation’s founding documents but in Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists Association. Skewed interpretations of those phrases have redefined the First Amendment to be the direct opposite of the Founders’ original intent.

The statement that one should “leave religious beliefs at home” or be thought intolerant, under the First Amendment, is ironically something the Founders sought to prevent. The First Amendment was created to liberate and protect the convictions of even the minority, not to stifle religion.  For those of deeply held beliefs, religion is not a “pastime”; it is a core value.

In our current society, schools have become so concerned with offending those that do not share similar religious views that the fundamental right to participation in prayer as set forth in the constitution and supported by The Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, is unprotected.

“Hostility toward religion is neither required by our Constitution nor desirable in a free and just society. Only those who are insecure of their position seek to impose it by force by silencing their opposition. The Christian citizen must be alert to those who seek to silence religious views and reject their freedom-stifling ideas. As long as we are able and committed to fight the abuse of the First Amendment with the virtues of the First Amendment, we shall preserve liberty and freedom. If we fail, oppression is sure to follow,” [2] said Mario Diaz, CWA Legal Counsel.

When lawmakers and school authorities choose to forego a students’ right of conscience in the name of political correctness, liberty and freedom are at genuine risk.  James Madison once said that, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property” — for all people, not just Christians. It is the personal duty and right of conscience of our citizens to preserve liberty and freedom for all, including those attending school.[3]

We urge your “Do Pass” vote on HB 1275.  Your consideration of this request is appreciated.
[1] Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, February 7, 2003, https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html

[2] Diaz, Mario, Be Spent, Winning the Fight for Freedom’s Survival, 2015

[3] Wegman, Hannah, #PrayforParis But Condemn #CoachKennedy? America’s Prayer Paradox http://www.christianpost.com/news/prayforparis-but-condemn-coachkennedy-americas-prayer-paradox-150826/#QFZMAbFTS8VOHGqD.99