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Letters to the editor of the Globe Magazine

Readers sound off on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on school prayer, and more.

Court of Public Opinion

Like Perspective writer Linda K. Wertheimer, I was shocked and angered by this ruling (“Calling Foul on a Supreme Court School Prayer Ruling,” July 10). Her experience as the lone Jew in her school brought back memories of my high school. The practice then (I graduated in 1962, just weeks before Engel v. Vitale) was for homeroom classes to salute the flag and recite the Lord’s Prayer. I was in a homeroom with a Jewish boy, and I became aware that he sat out while the rest of us stood to recite the prayer. It never occurred to me before then what that daily exercise might mean for non-Christians. The sense of being “different” also struck me. Justice Kennedy’s comment about the “risk of indirect coercion” is spot on—kids do not like being singled out for their differences, nor should they.


David Bryant


I’m a 70-year-old woman who has been a practicing atheist since I was 18. This SCOTUS ruling on school prayer was over the top. As a retired high school teacher, I know how much weight is placed with teacher and peer opinion. That is exactly what happened in this case: A coach used his authority to pull students into his prayer circle. When I taught, during the first class of the day, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. While I stood, I did not recite the pledge because of the words “under God,” a clear violation of church and state. I wonder now whether I should have stood at all. I did not make my opinions known to my students. I wish I had. I didn’t want to sway students if they believed in God.

Diane Lightburn

North Andover

The Founders gave us a two-pronged approach to religion cases: the Establishment Clause, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Lemon test, from Lemon v. Kurtzman, has been the standard since 1971. It looks at whether the action has a secular purpose, advances or inhibits religion, and does not foster excessive entanglement. This gradually developed into an “endorsement” test, then the “coercion” standard. This analysis is done under the Establishment Clause, because until recently, why would you look at whether preventing a person in a position of authority in a public school from leading a prayer on school property would violate that person’s free exercise of religion? They can pray on their own time. Now they don’t have to.


Michael O’Donnell


This case is simply ridiculous. It has nothing to do with the motivation of the coach. The coercion is obvious, as any kid will know—whether in the majority or minority. I hope that Common Cause, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the other organizations that have our rights in the forefront can provide leadership. We have to show [younger generations] that it takes work to keep democracy functional!

Philip Lilienthal

Reston, Virginia

I’m so old (86) that when I went to the Pittsfield public schools, the day began with a mouthful. We sang, we chanted, we prayed. God appeared occasionally in the patriotic songs. “Under God” would not be inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance till President Eisenhower insisted in 1954. We said the Lord’s Prayer. Depending on the religion of the teacher, it ended abruptly with “Amen” [for Catholics], or trailed on [to later end with] “for ever and ever, Amen” [for Protestants]. The whole prayer left Jewish kids without a say, and, depending on the teacher, either the Catholics or the Protestants, too.


Margo Miller


A soccer referee, which I was, is in charge of the field from the moment s/he arrives until the moment s/he leaves, independent of the start and finish times of the game. Therefore, the referee is officially “on duty” as a representative of the league the entire time. Ditto for coaches. The same likely applies to school teams and leagues, so a coach’s function and authority do not end with the final whistle, but rather, end when s/he’s no longer present post-game. I think the court got this one wrong.

James Mahoney


This ruling ignored and distorted facts and violated the principles of separation of church and state and the free practice of religion. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a child with a non-Christian or a-religious background to feel a sense of belonging and connection in the current world, where morality and religion are legislated at every turn.

Susan Polit


How lucky I was to have Carl Marino as my public high school AP American history teacher and ice hockey coach. Between us there was a shared, quiet bond of respect and understanding; he a devout Catholic, me an observant Jew. Hockey was as good a fit as possible; except for two, all of our games were scheduled for Wednesday and Saturday nights. The two were Friday night, Shabbat games. Before walking off the bus after a Wednesday game, I turned to Dr. Marino and said, “Just reminding you that I won’t be playing on Friday.” He smiled and said, “Yes, I know. Just say a Hail Mary for me.” It wasn’t a Hail Mary, but while in shul, between the words of the prayer book, I did think of him and felt a deep sense of appreciation and blessing. Now and then, when immersed in prayer, I think of him still.


Alfred H. Benjamin


Savoring Summer

A New England summer means I can plant myself on a Cape Cod beach (“40 Tiny, Perfect Things About a New England Summer,” July 17). Read, swim, walk tidal flats, watch my dog chase sea gulls, dig for clams to make homemade New England clam chowder, before carrying home sand between my toes, and rinsing off in an outdoor shower. Finishing the day sitting on a screened porch with a fresh piece of cod off the charcoal grill, accompanied by tomatoes from the garden topped with basil and a drizzle of olive oil, and a glass of chilled white wine. There’s nothing better to get in touch with simple living.

Janis Robinson Daly


In my late 20s, early 30s, I had the good fortune to summer in Kennebunkport. Staying at Mrs. Howe’s Guest House on Ocean Avenue, I would wake up to the smell of freshly baked scones. A taste of old New England, afterward walking down to Walker’s Point. Kennebunkport was not as crowded then. What a delight it was.


Lawrie Foster


I love going to the North End in Boston. Starting with dinner, then a visit to Mike’s for take-home dessert, and finally Bova’s Bakery for fresh Italian bread. Fun starts with taking the ferry from Hingham. This day trip makes my summer.

Marie Dyment


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