Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000) – Part Three: A Little Leaven Leaveneth The Whole Lump


I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace.

Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread.

Galatians 5:4-9 (The Message)

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

Galatians 5:9 (KJV)

In Part One I introduced Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), a case in which the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for the school to open football games with prayer over the stadium loudspeakers – even if students “voted” on it. I suggested the stories behind this decision emphasized the importance of that whole “wall of separation” thing. 

In Part Two I tried to highlight the impact on dissenters whenever majority beliefs control secular government policy, using the power of the state to promote favored theologies. I managed to keep it under 1800 words and didn’t mention ISIS or Al-Qaeda even once!

Finally, I’d like to look at the damage done to faith when it becomes entangled with secular authority. This isn’t really a religiously-driven blog, but it’s an important point – so I’m going to give it a shot.

It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? 

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself…

James Madison, Federalist #51 (1788)

When I stop at a red light, I’m not doing it because those damn liberals are making me late for work just so someone else can drive through the intersection on my time; I do it because traffic lights allow for safer, more productive use of the common roads. They help the other guy, sure – but they help me as well. That’s true even when I’m not benefitting obviously and directly right that second. 

That alone should be enough for us to stop, even when we’re in a hurry and there’s no one coming from the other direction. But we know ourselves, and we know humanity, so we collectively devote resources to both the cost of the lights and enforcement via police and the courts. 

You can get a ticket for running a red light even when no one was coming and there was no danger. The rules are enforced on principle alone because over time, as a whole, that’s what’s best for everyone – including the guy getting the ticket.

There’s no crime in getting annoyed that you’re stuck at a red light. You might even go to city leadership and ask them to reevaluate some things – how long lights stay red or green, how the equipment senses vehicles, etc. 

But if I let my determination to drive through that intersection any time I damn well please become a priority – the reason I even start the car in the morning – then something else has gone seriously wrong. Something with the potential to be personally destructive as well as threatening to others. At that point, I’ve lost sight of the whole purpose of driving to begin with. 

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Luke 18:10-14 (KJV)

The “separation of church and state” defined by the First Amendment isn’t about being “nice” to folks with other beliefs. It’s not cultural charity – it’s collective preservation. 

Yes, it protects religious minorities – like, say, the Baptists were for many years. But just as importantly, it preserves the integrity of the dominant faith. It's a shield against the corrupting of Christianity. 

Santa Fe had been something of a Mayberry. I’m sure they had their issues – most of us do – but it wasn’t until boundaries between faith and politics began to crumble that things turned particularly ugly. 

Prayer before football games is part of a much larger campaign in Santa Fe, one to “bring God back into the classroom” according to school prayer advocates. Many here argue that the secularization of schools—after decades of Supreme Court rulings removing morning prayer and the Ten Commandments from the classroom—has caused a moral crisis in both this community and the nation as a whole. They believe Santa Fe has been chosen for a purpose, and that purpose is to wage “spiritual warfare” against an increasingly secular and amoral culture. “We are warriors on the field,” said Pastor Terry Gibson, “and prayer is our greatest weapon.”

We all remember when Christ emphasized to his disciples the importance of mandatory group prayer before athletic events, yes? Otherwise, the Devil scores the real touchdown. 

Santa Fe had always been a place where people were strong in their faith but not in their judgments, Debbie recalled, though in the early nineties, that began to change. Fundamentalist and evangelical churches had always played an important, if low-key, role in Santa Fe. But as the town grew… church rolls swelled, and the Ministerial Alliance—a coalition of local church leaders who would figure prominently in the push for school prayer—became more powerful, and more political. 

Several school board positions were soon filled with self-described Christian conservatives, who called the separation of church and state doctrine a “myth” and a misinterpretation of the Constitution. By the time the lawsuit was filed, the town’s mood had begun to shift…

This sound at all familiar, Oklahoma? 

Abstinence-only sex education classes were instituted. Juvenile literature by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary was removed from the elementary school library… And Danielle Mason was not the only student to have had a Bible forced on her or to be taunted for not taking one. “I was told by an administrator that if my girls would just take the Bibles, there wouldn’t be a problem,” Debbie Mason said… 

Texas Monthly (November 2000)

The transition from believer to Pharisee is not always a clear or sudden one. The decline from faithfulness to rules and rituals is ugly, but often difficult to recognize in real time. 

You don’t have to be a bad person to become a leavened lump.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:5-6 (KJV)

What the controlling majority in Santa Fe was fighting for wasn’t a fundamental component of their faith – it was a tradition. A statement of "us" in a community determined not to give in to "them." Jesus, as you may recall, was a bit more of the "come unto Me" type – much less excited about ceremony and separation. 

Prayer proponents were willing to alter the words, even eliminate references to God or the Bible just to win the legal battle at hand – begging the question of whether anything so faith-free is still even "prayer." Students snuck in speakers and played pre-recorded invocations. Parents chanted prayers over the announcer. One way or the other, they were going to win this for God, dammit. 

{History makes it clear that} religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together… 

James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston (July 10, 1822)

Like the “War on Christmas” or the Salem Witch Trials, football prayers became a proxy for bigger economic and cultural changes they couldn’t fight – maybe not even consciously identify. Genuine belief mutated into a “must-win” battle over rituals and symbols. What many residents longed for was something their football prayers couldn’t give them – a return to an idealized past. One racially, economically, and culturally homogenous. They wanted Mayberry back.

Sitting in the bleachers of the local Little League baseball complex and cheering on the budding sluggers, Santa Fe school board member Couch calls it a "compliment" that the town resembles a community from the 1950s.  "There are a lot of good values from the '50s," he says. "There are lot of people here who wouldn't mind taking a step back." …

He points to the 1962 Supreme Court ruling that first banned prayer in public classrooms. 

"Since that time, there has been an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies and school violence," he says… "At the same time, test scores have dropped. It can all be traced back to that point. It is no mistake."

That is why Couch says he is willing to go to jail to keep God in public schools.  "This isn't a matter of win or lose," says Couch. "It's a matter of right or wrong."

This sentiment was not uncommon in Santa Fe. If we’re honest, it’s not that uncommon among conservatives in America today.

You wash your car, and it rains – therefore washing your car opened up the skies. You take state-sanctioned, teacher-led prayer out of public schools, and the 1960s unfold – therefore… 

They could just as easily blame the Equal Pay Act, the introduction of Froot Loops cereal, or JFK saying that thing about being a jelly donut at the Berlin Wall. But the issue was never really just prayer or lack thereof, and it’s certainly not God’s inability to “get inside” public schools where desperate believers presumably lie verbally muzzled and thus spiritually forsaken. 

Society changes – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse – and it’s usually messy along the way. What faith offers isn’t an unchanging world, but an unwavering source of guidance and comfort as you walk through those changes. 

That “wall of separation” isn’t there to stifle your faith. It's there to protect it. And to protect others from you, if that first part doesn't work.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

I Corinthians 10:23-24

RELATED POST: Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000), Part One: Overview

RELATED POST: Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000) – Part Two: If She Weighs The Same As A Duck…

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