A friend of mine recently posted the following news link to Facebook:
Atheist teen forces school to remove prayer from wall after 49 years
He accompanied the link with a statement which stated that he admired the young girl for standing up for herself despite all of the misfortune that has come her way. While I strongly object to the hostility that has been directed at her, I do not admire this girl; not because I might disagree with her, but simply because this is yet another symbol of what is so often wrong with this country. While I strongly support standing up for what you believe in - or in this case what you don't believe in - do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.
At sixteen, you are convinced that the world revolves around you. (I have just raised three teenagers, so I am speaking with the voice of recent experience.) The question here is not whether the state is cramming religion down someone's throat - which it clearly is not - but whether an entire community should be inconvenienced for the self-interested attitudes of a single detractor. This solitary malcontent is asking for her community to discontinue a half-century of tradition, and she is demanding that thousands of previous students, parents, and faculty look the other way while she forces the world around her into a mold that is custom-fit for her and no one else; how immature.
There are so many things in contemporary society for which we are asked to look the other way if we have an objection; simply flipping through a magazine or turning on the television will provide ample material for one person or other to raise a protest. You might agree with their objections, or you might disagree, but we live in a free society where you do not have the right to never be offended. In our culture the generally-accepted answer is for the complainant to avoid what offends them; we do not require every publisher to pander to the wishes of every objector. If we managed to remove everything that offended any individual person then we would have nothing left to look at or listen to. (For example, I can't stand country music, but I don't sue Nashville in order to force them to stop cranking out album after album of music that makes me want to hurl.)
But that is not the case in this situation. What is taking place here is that a single student has raised an objection out of self-centered desire; perhaps it is a desire to get her way, perhaps it is a desire for attention, or perhaps she has ulterior ambitions in mind. In the end, it really doesn't matter. If you read the "prayer" in question, there is nothing in it that should be offensive to anyone; it is not forcing religion on anyone - it is simply a call to be a better person:
"Our Heavenly Father,
"Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
Since when is being good offensive to anyone? Is it because she wants to violate the thoughts of goodwill that are expressed within those few words? Does she find it threatening that someone wishes for her to aspire to be better than she is? (Note: You may choose to believe in God, or you may not, that's your choice; but that's actually beside the point in this scenario.)
What is extremely revealing of her attitude is her cause for atheism; when she was ten years old, God didn't do what she wanted, so she decided that there is no God. It's an odd coincidence that the source of her disbelief was a similar situation to her current predicament; when the school voted to keep the prayer banner in question, she lost faith in them. If her parents had opposed her outspoken position, she would have undoubtedly lost faith in them. If the courts rule against her, then she will lose faith in government. This is a bad set of precedents that she is establishing; she wants the world to bow down to her demands, and if they don't comply, then she will simply complain to someone else until she gets her way. Ultimately, it's a bad signal to society when we do so.
This is where she is the most wrong; we live in a tolerant culture, and tolerance means accepting the fact that someone has a right to a conflicting opinion. This is true for religion, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. No one should be allowed to force everyone else to agree with them. So I reiterate my earlier statement: do not mistake self-centered motives for moral courage.