Copy of pages 20-21 of Booklet by David Barton, School Prayer and other Religious Speech,
showing polling data supporting voluntary prayer in Public Schools (see underlined text)
When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of New York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina because we were so divided in religious sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists, that we could not join in the same act of worship.78
In theory, it appeared that public prayer would be divisive; yet, as confirmed by the remainder of John Adams’ letter, the theory was disproved when the practice became reality:
Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue... Accordingly, next morning... Mr. Duché... struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced... It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.79
Daniel Webster, in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, described that same event and reminded the Court of the unifying power of prayer.80 This issue was also addressed in Lee v. Weisman (1992) by Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, White, and Thomas, who declared:
The founders of our Republic knew the fearsome potential of sectarian religious belief to generate civil dissension and civil strife. And they also knew that nothing, absolutely nothing, is so inclined to foster among religious believers of various faiths a toleration no, an affection for one another than voluntarily joining in prayer together, to God whom they all worship and seek... The Baptist or Catholic who heard and joined in the simple and inspiring prayers of Rabbi Gutterman on this official and patriotic occasion was inoculated from religious bigotry and prejudice in a manner that can not be replicated. To deprive our society of that important unifying mechanism... is as senseless in policy as it is unsupported in law.81
Significantly, the support for prayer has been growing over recent years as the public has become even more unified on this issue. In fact, as borne out by numerous public polls, prayer is a unifying, not a divisive, force.
For example, in 1985, 69 percent of Americans supported school prayer;82 by 1991, that number had increased to 78 percent.83 Similarly, in 1988, 68 percent of Americans supported a constitutional amendment to reinstate school prayer;84 by 1994, that number had risen to 73 percent, 85 and by 2001 (before the terrorist attacks) it had climbed to 78 percent.86
Furthermore, the public is strongly unified on the subject of spoken not silent prayer. In 1995, the support for spoken prayers by students of all faiths was at 73 percent and by 2001 (before the terrorist attacks) it was at 77 percent.87 Additionally, 80 percent believe that students should be able to recite a spoken prayer at graduations,88 and support for other types of visible religious expressions at schools remains equally high. 89
Despite such high numbers, these activities continue to be impermissible and unreasonably so, for on the issue of school prayer, there are only two possibilities: either there will be voluntary prayer in school or there will not; there is no middle ground; the supporters of only one position will prevail. Which position should prevail? The theoretical answer is obvious, but the actual answer is quite different.
In fact, after a review of the Supreme Court’s decisions on prayer, the federal judge who originally presided over the Lee v. Weisman decision that restricted prayer at graduation ceremonies reluctantly concluded:
[T]he Constitution, as the Supreme Court views it, does not permit it [prayer]... Unfortunately, in this instance there is no satisfactory middle ground... Those who are anti-prayer have thus been deemed the victors.90(emphasis added)
This is a clear case of the minority prevailing over the wishes of the majority, and until recent years, courts had long rejected the concept of dissident individuals or groups setting aside the rights of the majority. (See, for example, Updegraph v. Commonwealth, 91 People v. Ruggles,92 Commonwealth v. Wolf, 93 etc.). In fact, in 1952, the Court declared:
We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being... When the State encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities... it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not... would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe... We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile