But a split ruling leaves ‘moment of silence’ statutes intact in 25 states.
A splintered U.S. Supreme Court ruling on silent prayer in public schools provided a forum for several justices to redefine how conflicts between church and state should be resolved. The ruling, Wallace v. Jaffree, struck down an Alabama law that authorized a daily moment of silence for “meditation or voluntary prayer” in public schools.
One of three Alabama laws regarding prayer in schools, it was passed in 1982 to modify an older statute that allowed a moment of silence without specifying what activity should take place during that time. The Supreme Court’s majority reasoned that the added words “or voluntary prayer” prescribed a particular religious practice, thus placing the statute outside the acceptable bounds of government accommodation of religion.
Alabama’s older “moment of silence” law, on the books since 1978, remains intact along with similar statutes in 24 other states. The 1978 Alabama law was not challenged by Ishmael Jaffree, an agnostic who at first filed suit against a third Alabama law that allowed spoken prayer. Jaffree opposed the state of Alabama and his children’s elementary school teachers for leading their classes in spoken prayer. That practice, allowed by a law that actually suggested the wording of a Christian prayer to be used in class, was declared unconstitutional by a lower court. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling last year by declining to consider the case.
Jaffree amended his original complaint against teacher-led prayers to challenge Alabama’s 1982 silent prayer law, which the Supreme Court recently struck down. The high court’s consideration of the fine line between a generic moment of silence and one with specifically Christian overtones illustrates a wide range of opinion on the current court. Four justices—Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens, Harry Blackmun, and William J. Brennan, Jr.—formed the majority, agreeing that the law was a state “endorsement” of prayer activities, inconsistent with the principle of government neutrality toward religion. To reach that conclusion, they used the Court’s traditional “three-part test,” examining whether the Alabama law had a primarily secular purpose, unnecessarily advanced religion, or excessively entangled church and state.
Justices Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and Sandra Day O’Connor concurred with the majority decision, but wrote separate opinions offering a different perspective on how such decisions should be made. The three-part test, based on a 1971 Supreme Court ruling known as Lemon v. Kurtzman, is inconsistently applied, O’Connor wrote, so a more flexible, realistic alternative is needed.
The remaining three justices, Byron White, William H. Rehnquist, and Chief Justice Warren Burger, filed dissenting opinions. Rehnquist called on the court to scrap Lemon v. Kurtzman as a precedent and rely instead on the historical intent of the authors of the U.S. Constitution. Burger, author of the Lemon decision, wrote that the Court’s majority suffered from “a naïve preoccupation with an easy, bright-line approach for addressing constitutional issues.” The three-part test, he said, “did not establish a rigid caliper capable of resolving every Establishment Clause issue, but … sought only to provide ‘signposts.’ ”
Attorney Forest Montgomery, of the National Association of Evangelicals’ Washington, D.C., office, said that in striking down Alabama’s silent prayer statute, “the Court is guilty of overkill.” Adding the words “or voluntary prayer” to the law simply specified one alternative for appropriate activity during a silent moment, Montgomery said. “The answer is not to strike the statute down, but to implement it correctly.”
Montgomery noted that O’Connor’s concurring opinion essentially provides a “blueprint” for any future state laws permitting a moment of silence in public schools. Making it clear that Alabama’s 1978 moment of silence law still stands, O’Connor wrote that the amended 1982 law had the purpose and effect of officially endorsing prayer.
Instead of measuring the law against the traditional three-part test, O’Connor proposed an “endorsement test.” Such a test would not impose the artificial barriers that a search for a “secular purpose” requires.
Secular and religious purposes frequently are entwined in our public policy, O’Connor wrote. “Chaos would ensue if every such statute were invalid under the Establishment Clause. For example, the State could not criminalize murder for fear that it would thereby promote the biblical command against killing.”
An endorsement test, on the other hand, “does not preclude government from acknowledging religion or from taking religion into account in making law and policy,” O’Connor wrote. “It does preclude government from conveying or attempting to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” Because the Alabama law suggested prayer as the appropriate activity during a moment of silence, she wrote, “candor requires us to admit that this Alabama statute was intended to convey a message of state encouragement and endorsement of religion.”
Rehnquist disagreed with the majority as well with as O’Connor, basing his dissenting opinion on American history. “It would come as much of a shock to those who drafted the Bill of Rights as it will to a large number of thoughtful Americans today to learn that the Constitution, as construed by the majority, prohibits the Alabama Legislature from ‘endorsing’ prayer.” Noting that George Washington proclaimed a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, Rehnquist wrote, “History must judge whether it was the father of this country in 1789, or a majority of the Court today, which has strayed from the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”
International Consultation Calls For A Balanced View Of The Holy Spirit
An international gathering of evangelical workers and scholars has issued a call for the church to shift to a new balance in its perception of the Holy Spirit and his place in the task of evangelization.
Meeting in Oslo, Norway, the nearly 50 participants agreed that dramatic displays of the Holy Spirit’s power should be accepted as a normal part of the Spirit’s role in bringing conviction of sin and repentance to the unsaved. Where these “signs and wonders” already are present, the conferees said, care should be taken not to separate the Spirit’s power from his holiness nor to lay stress on the Holy Spirit apart from the Trinity.
The consensus position issued by the Consultation on the Work of the Holy Spirit and Evangelization was achieved by an open and vigorous airing of issues disputed among evangelicals. The participants, and more than 20 observers, represented both Western and non-Western countries. Charismatic and non-charismatic Christians, as well as ministers and academic theologians, were represented in roughly equal numbers.
The five-day event was cosponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and the World Evangelical Fellowship, the two leadership bodies for evangelicals at the international level. The Norwegian Lausanne Committee coordinated the event. It was hosted by the Home Mission Bible School, founded nearly 80 years ago by Ole Hallesby, the well-known Norwegian pietist.
Participants interacted with preparatory papers in small-group discussions. They critiqued one another’s work in plenary sessions chaired by Australian Anglican Bishop John R. Reid. The process produced broad agreement in the following areas:
• The work and person of the Holy Spirit should not be emphasized in isolation. Although the Spirit has distinct functions, he always acts in concert with the full Godhead. The conferees said this emphasis is essential to counter a “creeping unitarianism” in liberal Christian ranks that seeks to dismiss the Father and the Son. The emphasis also is needed to counter the influences of Eastern mysticism and the Muslim form of monotheism, they said, and to correct imbalances in Christian teaching, preaching, and ministry.
• The gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit are of equal importance. Neglect of either or preoccupation with either leads to a stunted expression of the church and its ministry, and to an inadequate understanding of the gospel and its effects. Spiritual gifts, although distributed individually, are for the benefit of the entire church and not to be used selfishly.
• Christ and his atoning work on the cross must retain centrality in the proclamation of the gospel, because the Holy Spirit always points to Christ.
• Evangelizing may be characterized by healings, exorcisms, and words of prophetic insight. These, and speaking in tongues, should be tested and should conform to biblical procedures.
• Holiness is the mark of the presence and impact of the Holy Spirit. The personal holiness of the evangelist and the corporate holiness of the church are integral to Holy Spirit-led evangelization. The power of the Holy Spirit is not a tool to be harnessed in evangelism, the conferees agreed. Rather, it is the evangelist who must be controlled by the Spirit.
HARRY GENET in Oslo
Christian Author Joyce Landorf Will Discontinue Her Radio Program
Popular Christian author Joyce Landorf has decided to discontinue her radio program, “From the Heart of Joyce Landorf.” Since last fall, the show had aired on some 30 radio stations nationwide.
Landorf, who announced on one radio program that she and her husband of 32 years are getting a divorce, also has canceled many of her speaking engagements, according to her spokesman. He added that Landorf would be taking a low profile in the coming months because she “needed time to heal.” He said both Joyce and Dick Landorf have sought counseling.
According to a statement released by Joyce Landorf Ministries, Dick Landorf filed for the divorce. The statement adds that “Joyce will gladly answer questions and grant interviews after the divorce is final. However, until that time, she feels it would be inappropriate to discuss any of her present circumstances.” A spokesman said Landorf is not contesting the divorce, and that it probably would be final in October.
In another development, advertising has been discontinued on the five books that Landorf published through Word Incorporated. According to a statement released by Word, plans for the release of additional Landorf products have been put on hold.
Landorf has published more than 20 books and has more than 5 million copies in print. Since the publication of Irregular People in 1982, she has been one of Word’s five most popular authors. Her other books include His Stubborn Love (Zondervan), Mourning Song (Revell), and He Began With Eve (Word).
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.