June is almost gone and schools are out. Commencement exercises, notable for their absence of prayer, are over. College graduates now face the tough decision of whether to try to find a job in a stagnant economy or go on to graduate school to increase their skills — and their debt.
Our youth are suffering the most in the flat economy. The non-partisan Economic Policy Institute reports that unemployment among college graduates younger than 25 has averaged 9.4 percent, with an additional 19.1 percent in jobs for which they were overqualified. The stats for young men without a college degree are even grimmer: in October 2011, 22.4 percent of those in the 20- to 24-year-old bracket were unemployed.
But William H. Jeynes, professor of education at California State University, Long Beach, says the root of the problems these young people now face is not primarily economic. Instead, Dr. Jeynes says today’s problems began 50 years ago this month when the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools.
Jeynes says that decision and the one the following year in which the Supreme Court declared school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools unconstitutional dramatically affected the moral foundation of our nation. “Because it has been a number of decades since moral education and prayer were removed from the public schools, most of the adult working population in the United States were raised in schools in which character education and voluntary public prayer were absent,” write Jeynes in his 2010 book, A Call for Character Education and Prayer in the Schools.
Jeynes argues that “Character education that is taught in the public schools will foster economic growth.” And he has published research that explains why. “Myriad qualities,” he writes, “that are associated with lives of morality and integrity are also some of the most important prerequisites for a society to maintain high rates of economic growth.”
Dr. Jeynes, an evangelical Christian who along with his wife has done missionary outreach in 20 nations, has the done the research to back up his claim that removing character education and prayer has had a “detrimental impact” for decades. Taking this fact into account, says Jeynes, gives a very different perspective and helps us understand the “numerous problems that the United States faces.”
It’s a perspective, however, that’s consistent with that of our Founders who understood the importance of religion and morality as the key supporting pillars for a new republic and a growing nation. For the Founders, prayer was essential.
For example, there was another significant day in June — June 7, 1775, just 10 days before the bloody engagement between the colonists and the British at Bunker Hill — when the Continental Congress approved a resolution that called for the first of many subsequent “fast days” to be observed in the Colonies. The resolution read in part:
The Congress, therefore, considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state of these colonies, do earnestly recommend that Thursday, the 20th day of July next, be observed, by the inhabitants of all the English colonies on this continent, as a day of public humiliation, fasting and prayer; that we may with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins; and offer up our joint supplications to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events. ... And it is recommended to Christians, of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and to abstain from servile labour and recreations on said day.
As historian Rodd Gragg recounts in Forged in Faith: How Faith Shaped the Birth of the Nation, 1607-1776, not only was this resolution published in newspapers and distributed as a handbill, but pastors also read it from their pulpits and encouraged their congregants to observe the day. And so they did.
In Philadelphia the streets were empty that Thursday and Americans, writes Gragg, “quietly observed the day at home, or assembled in their churches for appropriate services of worship.” The Continental Congress spent most of the fast day in church, attending the Anglican Christ Church in the morning and the Presbyterian Old Pine Street Church in the afternoon. At Christ Church the Reverend Jacob Duché exhorted them:
And whilst we are faithfully persevering in the defense of our temporal rights, let us humble ourselves before God … and seriously impartially inquire what returns we have made to Heaven for its past favors, and whether its present chastisements have not been drawn down upon us by a gross neglect of our past privileges.
A little less than a year later, on May 17, 1776 the Continental Congress called for another day of “fasting, humiliation, and prayer.” Like the one the year before it was not compulsory, but again a resolution was sent throughout the colonies to publicize it, recommending that “Americans everywhere beseech God for his protection ‘through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ.’” The resolution concluded with the prayer that Almighty God “would be graciously pleased to bless all his people in these colonies with health and plenty, and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism, and of pure undefiled religion, may universally prevail; and this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty, and enabled to transmit them inviolate to the latest posterity.”
Ten days later, on May 27, 1776, two resolutions were presented to the Continental Congress, both advocating independence. Then on Friday, June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia addressed the Congress and presented the final resolution that won the support of all the delegates:
That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
In a few weeks, we will celebrate the Independence that so many sacrificed so much to achieve and maintain. When we do, let us remember that America was birthed through prayer. And, in a time when many government leaders are afraid to pray in Jesus’ name and we are reaping the consequences of expunging prayer from our nation’s schools, let us pray that God will be merciful to our nation and allow the blessings of peace and liberty to be transmitted “inviolate” to our posterity. More than a million Americans have pledged to pray on the Sunday before Independence Day, July 1, as a part of the interdenominational Call2Fall, a call to Christians all across America to “get on our knees and faces before the Lord in repentant prayer for God to reshape our lives and renew our land.” You can find out how you and your church can participate at www.Call2Fall.com.
Dr. Karen Gushta is a writer and researcher for Truth in Action Ministries (formerly Coral Ridge Ministries). Her most recent book is How Can America Survive? The Coming Economic Earthquake. She has also written The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk (2009) and co-authored Ten Truths About Socialism (2010). As an educator, Dr. Gushta has taught kindergarten to graduate level in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. Her doctorate is in Philosophy of Education.
Publication date: June 26, 2012