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Maybe schools should get rid of religious holidays, and other thoughts

Our neighbor George recently commented, among other things, that he read in the local paper that the son of Madalyn Murray O'Hair — who is often called "the great atheist" — has been invited to speak in the community. Let's make it very clear that children can still pray in school. They can pray when they get up in the morning, when they get on the school bus, at lunchtime and before a test. Prayer in government-sponsored contexts, such as schools, amounts to "theological sterility" — that is, fabricated prayer designed more to keep children under control than a meaningful prayer to God. Parents, families, even religious institutions need to teach their children why to pray and how to pray even in public settings. That means when you eat a Big Mac at McDonald's or a bowl of chili at Wendy's. How many individuals or families actually have a prayer of thanksgiving when they eat out? Maybe parents need to be taught first the value of prayer so they can teach their children.

Speaking of schools, public schools will eventually need to eliminate religious holidays from their school schedules. With more and more religious groups wanting their religious holidays recognized as part of the school schedule, it would be better to recognize none of them. This is not a decision that is made against religious faith. Rather, it would free up all religions to take recognized days off from school to practice their own faith. Jewish students now have their special days recognized, while Christians do not have their special days like Christmas and Easter recognized, except in the "winter holiday" and "spring break." Maybe some recognition for attendance could be given to children who take a day or two away from school to celebrate their own religious holiday rather than everyone simply taking a day off and shutting the whole school down.

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Continuing my conversation with George, I told him I was really touched by the interfaith vigil recently held at Bell Grove Square Park in Westminster for the victims of the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. It was a creative way to remember and mark the tragic event of the shooting of 49 people by a gunman in a nightclub. With interfaith prayer, songs, and personal reflections we paused to remember and allow God to give us strength to find meaning in this tragedy while at the same time to rededicate ourselves to how we can live with one another. The thing that got me was the tolling of the bell at the end of the vigil. The morning newspaper said it was tolled 49 times for each of the persons killed, but I counted 50 times — including one for the shooter. How can you forgive a shooter who killed so many in such a violent way? And then I remembered the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, last year and how members of the church congregation offered forgiveness to the racist shooter there. Forgiving the shooter does not dismiss the responsibility of the one who killed so many, but it does free up our lives to move ahead and, in so doing, try to find meaning and solutions to living together in a diverse land.

As a final thought, I told George, the Supreme Court made the right decision recently in overturning a Texas law that did not protect the health of a woman but did attempt to deny the rights of women. Serious conversations need to continue between those who would deny woman's rights and those who affirm woman's rights in regard to abortion. Is it possible for these two groups to find a middle ground? Many Americans feel that abortion is morally wrong or regretful while at the same time believing that a woman should have some rights with her own body. Maybe there will never be a middle ground if one group feels that all abortions are murder and the other group feels that a woman should have a right to how her body is used. In regard to the strict Texas regulations in the law that was overturned, the law not only put an "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion, as the court ruled, but was really an attempt by anti-abortion lawmakers for religious or political reasons to eliminate abortion altogether step by step.

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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