Our cultural disorders weren’t caused by the Supreme Court’s prayer decisions—I’ll admit it. The implication that school prayer, by fortifying Young America, might have forestalled the rampage at Columbine High School, and those rampages preceding it—well, I wouldn’t push the matter too far, that’s all.

Still, it’s nice to see the American Civil Liberties Union, prissy proponent of forcible church-state “separation,” rebuked by Joe and Mary Doaks. It happened this spring at a rural high school in Maryland. Following a kind of popular uprising in support of prayer, the ACLU became righteously indignant and spluttery. Just my kind of uprising!

Ordered to keep prayer out of this year’s commencement exercise lest the delicate sensibilities of a lone senior be affronted, sniff, sniff, the school lamely agreed. The ACLU was helping the student: a towering presence for one local school board to take on.

Then, during a moment of silence in the ceremony, someone in the audience began intoning the Lord’s Prayer. Hundreds joined in. Officials on the stage joined in. It was like the long-suffering French patriots in Casablanca joining Paul Henried in drowning out Die Wacht am Rhein with the Marseillaise.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”—whether the ACLU likes it or not. So arrest us! the audience, in effect, was saying. Feed us to the lions!

The senior whose theological scruples concerning prayer had provoked the whole episode stalked out angrily, later spending some time in a squad car after he was denied readmission. (The guards said they were afraid he would cause a scene. Hadn’t he already?)

At ACLU headquarters, brows were furrowed. “The real loser,” said spokesman Suzanne Smith, “is the Constitution and the right of the people to express dissent.”

Oh—that wasn’t what was going on there? “The people” weren’t expressing “dissent”? Interesting logic. The ACLU’s point, of course, is that people who agree with ACLU positions express dissent, whereas those who disagree must be expressing something else. Nasty, Nazi-like tendencies, no doubt. Sieg heil!

The importance of prayer in the context of secular education has been inflated by sentimental recollection of pre-Madalyn Murray O’Hair days and by restlessness over the lack of easy solutions to our disorders. My own high school, in the 1950’s of semi-blessed memory, was moderate on the question: prayers only at football games and solemn occasions like commencement; student-led devotionals before school for those who desired that sort of witness. And ours was a pretty religious community. In secularized, multicultural America, school prayer is clearly a far hotter potato than was the case 35 years ago. And yet . . . and yet . . .

The ACLU’s secular snobbishness; its failure, and that of secularists in general, to acknowledge that others besides atheists and freethinkers have rights and sensitivities —such are the wellsprings of resentment against the Supreme Court’s church-and-state regime. This, coupled with the persistent sense that piety toward the Divine is fundamental to the life of any civilized community. The news from Maryland suggests that at least one such community endures.