Thomas W. Jendrock Student Activist Award: Wisconsin student ‘empowered by atheism

Matthias Chan wrote a blog, narrating his journey to agnostic atheism, after doing classwork at the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is also posted at the center’s website.

“I really liked Matthias’ essay: His thoughtfulness, respect for the differing beliefs of others, and his eloquence of writing,” said scholarship benefactor Thomas W. Jendrock, who has been contributing scholarship funds since 2013, for “a student who exhibits an atheist perspective which is positive, confident, introspective, constructive, optimistic and caring — and considerate and respectful toward individuals who do not share our beliefs.”

Matthias received a $1,000 scholarship.

By Matthias Chan

Matthias Chan

Be the God you want to see in the world.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention, let me explain.

In my spiritual journey throughout the school year, after exploring many faiths and religions through the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry and discussions with other interfaith fellows, I’ve finally ended up at agnostic atheism.  Believing that there is no God, however, wasn’t as liberating as one may think. Instead, it put a huge burden on me. Because God wasn’t telling me what was right and wrong, and there wasn’t some divine plan that worked for the good of everyone, it placed the burden on me to fill in those gaps. 

For atheists and agnostics, for whom a divine judge is absent, humanity has become the sole arbiter of right and wrong. We’re not just the judge, but we are the jury and executioner, as well. To borrow some terminology from Nietzsche, God is dead and we have replaced him. Because God is no longer sitting on his throne in heaven, there’s nobody looking out for us up there and making sure that everything is going to be all right.  That is now our responsibility.

Theologians like Irenaeus, Augustine, Al-Ghazali and Ibn Sina have struggled with the question of how suffering exists under the rule of an all-powerful God. But now, in the void vacated by the Almighty, it’s our job to alleviate the wounds of humanity.

This task isn’t just for those who doubt the supernatural. Embodying the compassion our world needs is a fundamental tenet of all the world’s religions. Abraham shows kindness and hospitality to complete strangers and guests. St. Paul urges Christians in Ephesus to embody Jesus’s self-sacrifice. Krishna teaches Arjuna to treat all beings with kindness and compassion, and Buddha commanded his followers to show compassion to all beings. Guru Nanak told early Sikhs that they must show kindness to all. Zoroaster said, “Doing good to others is not a duty. It is a joy, for it increases your own health and happiness.” All of these holy figures knew the importance of kindness and compassion, and they all practiced it in their daily lives.

I dream of a future where atheists, theists and everyone in between unite to create a better world, because it’s time for us to take up our role and be what we want and need God to be in a world filled with pain and suffering. It’s time for us to become the God we want to see in this world. It’s our duty to become selfless, protective, generous, loving and everything else that we know humanity desperately needs in order to repair the world and work toward the greater good for all. In the words of Jim Greenbaum, founder of the Greenbaum Foundation, “Being a bystander to suffering is not an option.”

Be the God you want to see in the world.

Matthias writes: “I’m studying computer science and religious studies at UW-Madison. I was raised in a nondenominational Christian home in Wisconsin, and although I no longer identify with any organized religion, I have a passion for studying world religions, their history, and their philosophical and theological thought.”

Overheard (March 2020)

How can we be winners, after all, if there are no losers? Where’s the joy in getting into the gated community and the private academy if it turns out that the gates are merely decorative and the academy has an inexhaustible scholarship program for the underprivileged? What success can there be that isn’t validated by another’s failure? What heaven can there be for us without an eternity in which to relish the impotent envy of those outside its walls?

Philosopher, scholar of religion and cultural critic David Bentley Hart, in his op-ed, “Why do people believe in hell?”

The New York Times, 1-10-20

There are many personal decisions that are not the role of government to make, from deciding how & when to grow a family, to deciding how & when to pray. Politicians should not use state resources to encourage prayer, nor use state resources to control our reproductive choices.

Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt, after Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a proclamation Jan. 7 urging Nebraskans to pray for an end to abortion on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.

Twitter, 1-9-20

To Mike Pence, who thinks it’s acceptable that his wife work at a school that bans LGBTQ, you are wrong. You say we should not discriminate against Christianity; you are the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian. I am a Christian woman and what I do know about Christianity is that we bear no prejudice and everybody is welcome. So you can take all that disgrace Mr. Pence and you can look yourself in the mirror and you’ll find it right there.

Singer Lady Gaga, who paused in concert during her song “Million Reasons” to lambast Vice President Pence., 1-20-20

The abuse that I endured at the hands of nuns made me the type of person where I don’t believe in anybody’s dogma. I don’t buy it. It’s just a form of control. I do believe in energy. That’s my religion. The energy of love is necessary for me. That’s what I pray for. People are like, “How come you pray when you say you don’t believe in the Catholic Church?” I say, “Because I made my own church.”

Actress Rosie Perez, in an interview.

New York Times Magazine, 1-13-20

I think [religion is] very black and white, binary, but I don’t think it’s very welcoming. Religion can be a crutch. Because it’s binary, it’s us and them, saved and unsaved, heaven and hell, it’s enlightened and heathen, it’s holy and righteous and sinner and filthy. I think that makes a lot of people feel better about themselves, like ‘I got Jesus and I’m saved and I’m going to heaven.’ I don’t know how you can believe in a God that wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell. What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn most of his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?

Aaron Rodgers, NFL quarterback, in an interview with Danica Patrick.

YouTube, 12-27-19

It gave us the extra couple of seconds we needed [when the ad ran short]. For most religionists, that cuts to the core. If you tell them you’re not afraid of burning in their hell, they’ve got nothing on you.

Ron Reagan, explaining why, in the TV ad he did for FFRF, he said, “Lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”

The Daily Beast, 1-17-20

The battle to reclaim the true meaning of religious freedom has inextricably become increasingly central to the 2020 election, and to the political concerns of virtually all Americans, whether they realize it or not.

Journalist Paul Rosenberg, in his article, “With the Christian Right on the offensive, activists are fighting back.”, 1-20-20

We have 20 years of public health studies all around the world that show not only that abstinence policies are ineffective but that they have nefarious consequences when it comes to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. We’re making public policy based on religious beliefs.

Debora Diniz, Brazilian law professor and reproductive rights activist, commenting on a new abstinence campaign formulated by Brazil’s minister for women and families — an evangelical pastor. Brazil has a high teen pregnancy rate and rising HIV infection rate.

The New York Times, 1-27-20

For my taste, it’s a little too rote an action. It smacks too much of mindless obedience in a time when independent thinking and independent municipal action is at a premium because there is so little happening on the federal level. Over the course of the last two years, as I’ve been taking a knee, I turn around and look at everybody. People’s hearts don’t really seem to be in it. They’re just doing something out of custom. What’s the point?

Ford Greene, mayor of San Anselmo, Calif., on unilaterally removing the Pledge of Allegiance at town council meetings.

Marin Independent Journal, 1-25-20

I hate religion. The Quran is a religion of hate. . . . I am not racist. You cannot be racist towards a religion. I said what I thought, you’re not going to make me regret it.

16-year-old Mila Orriols, during a live segment on her Instagram account. Her comments sparked a national debate about blasphemy and freedom of speech in France after she received death threats. She has gone into hiding.

BBC, 2-4-20

Aaron Rodgers

Although I have long ago left the Catholic Church, they continue to berate and diminish the reality of what my sister and my family have endured because of their criminal behavior and lack of remorse or contrition.

Rhode Island state Rep. Carol McEntee, after a local priest, Richard Bucci, said any legislators who voted in favor of a bill that protected a woman’s right to choose would be barred from receiving communion. McEntee’s sister was repeatedly abused by a former parish priest starting when she was 5.

Washington Post, 2-3-20

Andrew L. Seidel: State of the Union address was Christian Nationalist dog whistle

This article first appeared on Religion Dispatches on Feb. 7.

By Andrew L. Seidel


Andrew L. Seidel
(Photo by Chris Line)

mid the ripping paper and misbegotten medals, President Trump’s State of the Union address promised nationalism with a distinctly Christian bent.

Trump wants to steal $5 billion from public schools (which he decried as “failing government schools”) to give to private, i.e., Christian, schools. Trump wants to roll back reproductive rights and ban abortion. But more than anything, Trump wants to weaponize religious freedom. If he is successful there, it will be a win for his war against abortion and public schools too. He said:

“My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools. In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the glory of God.”

The Constitution already protects students’ right to pray in public schools. What Trump actually wants is to use the machinery of the state to impose religion on students.

The allusion to tearing down crosses is a nod to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow the 40-foot tall Bladensburg cross to remain on government land and be maintained at government expense. Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion was full of irreconcilable contradictions and it bought in to the idea that curing First Amendment violations would show “hostility toward religion.” Until last summer, that was a claim that the Supreme Court had repeatedly rejected going all the way back to its very first state-church decision.

The placement of this passage, with its Christian nationalist dog whistles, belies its true meaning. It came immediately after Trump touted the Federalist Society’s “pipeline” set up to get conservative lawyers — many patently unqualified — lifetime appointments as federal judges:

“Working with Mitch McConnell — thank you, Mitch — and his colleagues in the Senate, we have recommended 180 new judges to uphold our Constitution as written. This includes Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.”

Those aren’t Trump judges, they’re McConnell/Federalist judges. And they’re the ones who will make Trump’s religious freedom subtext a legal reality.

It’s also worth noting that immediately following this nod to Christian Nationalism, Trump claimed to be “defending national security and combating radical Islamic terrorism.”

And, in fact, the speech may have been edited to drop an even more blatant call to Christian Nationalism. Politico’s transcript includes the following line:

“In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a Christian nation.”

Time magazine’s transcript, meanwhile, reflects what the president actually said:

“In reaffirming our heritage as a free Nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation.”

It’s entirely possible that the speech wasn’t deliberately edited; that Trump, who’s famous for ad-libbing, simply misread or decided to deviate from the speech as written, but it’s meaningful that the speech appears to have been toned down.

Even so, the message is out in the open: These judges will make Christian Nationalism the law. They will redefine the Constitution so that it creates two classes of people: conservative Christians and everyone else. That is and has been the goal of Christian Nationalism — to codify Christian privilege and elevate Christians to a special, favored class. All others will be second-class citizens. As Chrissy Stroop noted in her Religion Dispatches piece on the State of the Union, these ideas have been mainstreamed due to the influence of the radical Christian Reconstructionist movement.

Right now, Christian Nationalists are raging against the dying of their privilege. Trump’s State of the Union encapsulated this rage. And, as America nears the tipping point at which conservative Christianity’s power and privilege are reduced to equality for all, the Christian Nationalist myths will be spouted more often and more loudly. But the end is near for this movement. That is the true state of our union.

Andrew L. Seidel is FFRF’s director of strategic response.

FFRF underwrites law symposium

“Is This a Christian Nation?” symposium

FFRF is proudly underwriting a scholar-studded late March symposium at the Roger Williams University School of Law focusing on the separation between state and church.

The one-day gathering with the title “Is This A Christian Nation?” will be held March 27 at the main campus in Bristol, R.I. Did the Founders intend the United States of America to be a Christian nation? Does it violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution to have a Latin cross on a World War I memorial on a public highway or a crèche on the front lawn of a town hall? How should history be used to resolve such questions? Some of the nation’s foremost First Amendment specialists are assembling in an attempt to grapple with the timely subject.

Among them is Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. He is the author of hundreds of professional and popular articles and the author or editor of 11 books, including, most recently, We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century. Chemerinsky is considered one of the most prominent legal scholars and public intellectuals in the nation.

The other notables include University of Pennsylvania Professor Marci A. Hamilton, whose writings include God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Also on the roster is John A. Ragosta, a historian at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and the author of three books, including Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed. Teresa M. Bejan is associate professor of political theory at Oxford University and the author of Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration. And Steven K. Green is the director of the Willamette Center for Religion, Law and Democracy and the author of seven books, including, most recently, The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940-1975.

Roger Williams University School of Law Associate Dean Jared Goldstein and Professor Carl Bogus will moderate the symposium. The event is open to the public, with paid registration. The cost for the general public is $195 and includes all symposium sessions, lunch and 6.5 Rhode Island Continuing Legal Education credits. The fee is $125 for employees of government, nonprofit, public interest and educational organizations. Roger Williams University law students and members of the judiciary may attend the symposium free of charge but need to register. Friday, March 20, is the registration deadline.

“We’re gratified that we’re enabling a gathering of some of the best legal minds in the country to focus on an issue that defines us a country,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The belief that the United States is a ‘Christian nation’ is unfortunately a common and dangerous misconception.”

FFRF, which is underwriting the symposium’s costs, thanks its Legal Director Rebecca Markert, a graduate of the Roger Williams University School of Law, and FFRF Strategic Response Director Andrew Seidel, as well the Roger Williams University School of Law itself, for their work and initiative in making possible this symposium.

FFRF benefactor endows secular chair at U of Texas

Brian Bolton

FFRF is hailing the creation of a new secular studies professorship at Texas’ premier public university, which is being endowed by FFRF Lifetime Member Brian Bolton.

The professorship at the University of Texas at Austin will focus on the growing segment of the population that adheres to a secular world-view, thanks to a generous gift from Bolton, a stalwart FFRF supporter. The Brian F. Bolton Distinguished Professorship in Secular Studies will be held by a senior faculty member whose research and scholarship specializes in secular studies.

There has been a significant recent increase in the United States of people with a secular perspective, especially among the youth. More than one-fourth of the U.S. population currently has no religious affiliation whatsoever; among Millennials, the “unaffiliated” figure jumps to 38 percent. This has prompted increased research in this realm, and the Bolton Distinguished Professorship is a capstone.

The executive wing of FFRF’s office, Freethought Hall, is named for Bolton, due to his support of FFRF’s headquarters expansion. Bolton has also singlehandedly underwritten for a decade FFRF’s essay contest for grad/older students, with up to $10,000 prize money yearly. And he is financing a bible accountability project to call attention to the continuing harm of the bible to society that includes subsidization of the cost of mailing FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel’s recent book, The Founding Myth, to every member of Congress last fall. FFRF will be publishing Bolton’s new work, tentatively titled Why the Bible Is Not a Good Book, this year. Bolton, who lives in Texas, will be speaking briefly at FFRF’s annual convention in San Antonio in November.

Bolton is a retired academic psychologist with a background in mathematics, statistics and psychometrics. His contributions in psychological measurement, personality assessment and rehabilitation psychology have been recognized by universities and psychological societies. His 10 edited and authored books include Handbook of Measurement and Evaluation in Rehabilitation, Psychosocial Adjustment to Disability, Rehabilitation Counseling: Theory and Practice, and Special Education and Rehabilitation Testing: Current Practices and Test Reviews. He is a licensed psychologist, humanist minister, karate black belt and Distinguished Toastmaster.

Interested in Camp Quest?

Do you have children or grandchildren who would be interested in a summer camp that sparks interest, empathy and critical-
thinking skills?

Try out Camp Quest, which provides an “educational adventure shaped by fun, friends and freethought, featuring science, natural wonder and humanist values.”

FFRF, as in past recent years, is offering Camp Quest $10,000 to use as scholarships for students who could not otherwise afford to attend.

The secular, co-ed summer camps offer week-long residential programs for children aged 8-17 and day camps  for children aged 4-8.

Go to for more information or to sign up.

FFRF to refile church tax case

Nonbelief Relief

A cutting-edge legal challenge of the IRS privileging of churches and related charities has experienced a technical setback, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation remains undeterred.

After its case was thrown out of court, FFRF will be refiling its challenge after its plaintiff, Nonbelief Relief, jumps through some legal hoops.

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court in D.C. issued a 11-page Memorandum Opinion on Jan. 10, dismissing a challenge filed by FFRF on behalf of Nonbelief Relief, a charity related to FFRF.

Nonbelief Relief filed suit in October 2018 after its tax-exempt status was revoked by the IRS. FFRF and Nonbelief Relief are challenging the IRS provision that preferentially exempts churches and related organizations from reporting the Form 990 annual information returns required of all other tax-exempt groups. Nonbelief Relief, founded in 2015, publicly stated that it would not file the annual Form 990s so long as churches and their related charities are not required to.

Nonbelief Relief suffered serious injury when the IRS refused its request — citing the discriminatory treatment of churches vis-à-vis other tax-exempt nonprofits — to be excused from registering the annual Form 990. Nonbelief Relief’s tax exemption was subsequently revoked on Aug. 20, 2018, for failure to file the Form 990 return for three consecutive years. It has had to basically fold up shop and can no longer receive charitable contributions.

Kelly has not completely closed the door, noting that the “decision does not mean that the church exemption is immune from judicial review. Nonbelief Relief could claim a refund for the taxes it paid, and sue when the refund was denied, arguing that its 501(c)(3) status was unconstitutionally revoked.”

FFRF paid $450.78 in IRS income plus a corporate franchise tax of $182.90. Nonbelief Relief will be seeking a refund on its taxes in the near future. If and when that refund is refused, Nonbelief Relief and FFRF will refile the suit.

FFRF contends that the court improperly dismissed Nonbelief Relief’s broader challenge to the exemption provided to churches, ruling that the organization lacks standing. According to the judge, Nonbelief Relief’s claim of unequal treatment when compared to churches “is not ongoing or imminent,” because Nonbelief Relief has lost its exempt status, and therefore will not have to fill out a Form 990.

“This circular reasoning would bar any group from challenging preferential treatment of religious organizations,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, who is administrator of Nonbelief Relief and FFRF co-president. “We are so distressed that Nonbelief Relief is in limbo, and unable to help others on behalf of freethought in a world fraught with natural disasters, hunger, displaced people and discrimination that is often religion-based. This injury extends far beyond just the loss of Nonbelief Relief’s tax-exempt status.”

Nonbelief Relief is a humanitarian group created by FFRF’s executive board in 2015 as a separate 501(c)(3) entity for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice on a global scale “whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma.”

Kentucky art contest winners announced

Marilyn Buente and Kate Benton came up with this artwork to win FFRF’s Kentucky ‘In God We (Don’t) Trust’ Student Art Contest.
This is the first-place artwork.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has chosen Kate Benton and Marilyn Buente as winners of its Kentucky ‘In God We (Don’t) Trust’ Student Art Contest, and each received $250 as collaborators on the winning entry.

The contest was part of an FFRF campaign to combat Kentucky’s new law requiring “In God We Trust” to be displayed in every public school. The Kentucky law specifically states that “In God We Trust” displays may be in the form of “student artwork,” opening the door for clever student artists to create art displays that conform to the law’s text but not its intent, says FFRF.

Benton, 17, and Buente, 16, both juniors in high school, collaborated to design and illustrate the winning artwork. Both share a passion for activism, media, photo and film.

Benton writes: “I also have a reflection on my reaction to the law: As a Christian, many people thought I would support the law. However, it was quite the opposite. As soon as I heard about it, I immediately wondered: what about everyone else?”

FFRF also awarded a $200 honorable mention to Eli Moossy of Georgetown, Ky.

“My name is Eli Moossy, and I’m in the 7th grade at Scott County Middle School in Georgetown, Ky. I am interested in computer programming, architecture and engineering. I also enjoy drawing and identify as an atheist, so that’s why I wanted to participate in this contest. I have gone to many Georgetown Fairness rallies and pride events. I enjoy being an activist.”

The contest was open to any student enrolled in a Kentucky public school who disagrees with the new law. The contest stipulated that artwork must contain the phrase “In God We Trust,” but must either protest the motto, subvert the religious intent of the new law or otherwise show why “In God We Trust” is not an appropriate motto to place in a public school.

Each winner also received a “clean,” pre-“In God We Trust” $1 bill.

True religious liberty at stake in Espinoza case

The U.S. Supreme Court should appreciate the real issue at stake in the Espinoza voucher case, the Freedom From Religion Foundation urged when oral arguments began Jan. 22.

FFRF’s 18-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed in November jointly with Center for Inquiry, American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, cogently argued that true religious liberty would be endangered if the court strikes down a provision of Montana’s Constitution that prohibits funding religious education.

“Religious liberty is imperiled in this case,” its brief asserted. “But this case is not about discrimination; it is about government-compelled support of religion. Every Montana citizen has the right to not be taxed to fund religion.”

When the Montana Legislature adopted a neo-voucher scheme, the Montana Supreme Court held that the scheme violated the “No Aid” clause of the state Constitution and struck down the entire neo-voucher scheme, for all private education, religious and nonreligious. Christian parents, represented by the pro-voucher Institute of Justice, want the Supreme Court to declare that No Aid clauses violate the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Nearly 90 percent of Montana’s private schools are affiliated with religion. If the court declares No Aid clauses unconstitutional, FFRF warns, all taxpayers may be compelled to fund religious worship and religious education. The 26 percent of nonreligious Americans will be the hardest hit.

An ironic additional consequence of such a ruling might be to bring down regulation on churches and religious schools due to the flow of public money into religious schools. In short, a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs would fundamentally alter the state-church relationship in place since the nation’s founding.

This is the first time the Supreme Court has taken up the constitutionality of state constitutional provisions against funding religion since its 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. The justices ruled 7-2 that Missouri’s constitutional ban on funding religion and churches was in violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, holding that a church had to be able to compete with secular groups for grants. FFRF strongly urges the Supreme Court to rule this time to maintain the constitutional wall of separation between state and church.

The brief points out the Supreme Court’s historic understanding of the First Amendment means that government cannot subsidize religion: “No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions,” as the Supreme Court has significantly ruled. The brief takes up the mantle of defending the rights of all citizens, asserting that “the court ought not to strike down No Aid provisions when they have served this country so well in protecting religious liberty.”

Supreme Court building.

Trump school prayer guidance inadequate

President Trump’s recently released guidance on school prayer and religious instruction, issued on Religious Freedom Day, simply reiterates the state of law. But the Freedom From Religion Foundation contends that it misses the chance to adequately warn schools about common First Amendment violations.

The administration not only unveiled its “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools” but is also proposing problematic rules for nine federal agencies on social services programs and funding of faith-based organizations.

For instance, the Department of Homeland Security is proposing a rule to implement Trump’s executive order from May 3, 2018, to “remove regulatory burdens” on religious organizations. These so-called “regulatory burdens” are protections for taxpayers and recipients of federally funded services against the misappropriation of federal funds to advance a private faith-based organization’s religious goals, and they did not go far enough. Removing them sends a message to religious organizations that they are entitled to taxpayer funds and need not worry about misusing the funds to advance religion. The changes will undo decades of gradual progress on this issue and will violate the rights of conscience of both taxpayers and those using federally funded services.

Federal guidelines on religion in public school are not new — both the Clinton and Bush administrations issued such guidance. The Trump guidelines are not a vast departure from prior guidelines, but they do not go nearly far enough to safeguard students from overzealous public school employees who seek to use their government position to promote religion to other people’s children.

FFRF notes that student rights of freedom of conscience are violated any time teachers, principals or coaches misuse their positions and authority to proselytize a captive audience of students and school children, or otherwise endorse or promote their personal religious beliefs.

The problem that ought to be addressed is not the protection of constitutional prayer (such as private prayer in student clubs) in public schools, but the prevalence of unconstitutional prayer in public schools.

The new guidelines are inadequate in this regard, and are primarily signaling to students with majority religious viewpoints that they should be publicly professing their religious beliefs. Instead of reiterating the right of students to pray privately, which no one challenges, the guidelines should have addressed common violations such as public school coaches baptizing their players, as recently happened in Alabama.