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Columnist Dan DeWitt: Browning's stand puts prayer in its proper place

Kurt Browning, superintendent of Pasco schools, told coaches in a September memo that it’s inappropriate for coaches to lead team prayers.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2012)

Kurt Browning, superintendent of Pasco schools, told coaches in a September memo that it’s inappropriate for coaches to lead team prayers.

A Jehovah's Witness knocked on my door on a Saturday morning, a stack of Watchtowers in hand, and, forgive me, I was a little rude.

Why, I wondered afterward, did this visit set me off?

Partly because, like all proselytes, her working assumption was that she knows better than the rest of us.

I don't like it when people offer unsolicited advice about lifting weights at the gym. I sure don't want to hear it about a major, highly personal choice that most of us already have thought through: how and what to worship, if we choose to worship at all.

I don't, by the way, which is another reason I found the encounter so irritating. How would it go over if I went from door to door pitching my view of Christianity: that it's great as an ethical guide but, beyond that, nothing more than a comforting fairy tale?

Probably not well at all.

Tom Lehrer, the 1960s singer-comedian, had it wrong when he said everybody hates Jews. From my experience, in this conservative part of Florida, a lot more people hate atheists.

Not that this causes me real problems. I usually just keep my mouth shut and wish that believers would show the rest of us the same respect.

So, hooray for Pasco superintendent of schools Kurt Browning!

Browning sent out a memo recently asking the county's high school football coaches to refrain from leading team prayers.

It doesn't forbid prayers, mind you, it just says that students, rather than paid employees of the public school system, should be leading them. Constitutionally speaking, this draws the line in the right place.

However, if I were a coach, even a Christian one, I would not want team prayers at all.

That's because it's no better for team-building than it is for nation-building, which our founders wisely recognized.

And that's because, obviously, you exclude every player who doesn't believe in the prayer leader's god, or doesn't believe in any god, or is just smart enough to see the folly of praying to a peaceful god when playing a game as violent as football.

For a similar reason, I'm not going to get carried away praising Browning's political bravery. Yes, he took some heat. But what's smart for coaches is smart for politicians, and Browning has staked out a widely appealing position as a devout Baptist who, when it comes to the public realm, is also a devout secularist. It's a position that doesn't leave anybody out.

And I like to think that's the way the country is heading.

We've made some great advances recently in gay rights. Catholics have a new pope — more like God's golden retriever than his Rottweiler — who has spoken up for these rights and, amazingly, against evangelizing. And though a recent Gallup poll shows that a lot of voters, 43 percent, would never vote for an atheist president, that's a far lower percentage than just a few years ago.

Maybe a few more people are starting to get it: No matter how great you think your religion is, it's yours, not everybody else's.

Columnist Dan DeWitt: Browning's stand puts prayer in its proper place 10/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, October 7, 2013 7:47pm]
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