In a creepy coda to the sad tale of the banned prayer banner at Cranston High School West, the 1963 class that hoisted the original has presented a pair of replacements. The version that was too offensive to adorn a public-school wall ran as follows:
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 with 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.
Note the practical implications of the prayer: The students are taking a transcendent God as their source of morals to help them improve themselves, thereby raising up the school based on its association with them.
The implications of the replacement are wholly different:
I believe in Cranston High School West, maintained by the community for the development of character, citizenship, and scholarship.
I believe in its ideals of self-control, reliability, industry, cheerfulness, and courtesy as traits essential to worthy character.
I believe it offers me an opportunity to work with others and for others but challenges me to think and act for myself.
I believe it offers rich opportunities for me to develop in spirit, mind, and body.
Therefore, I believe it is my duty to my school to participate in its activities, to practice its code of sportsmanship, to protect its property and reputation, to love it and cherish its ideals.
And I hereby resolve that, through my influence and example, I shall do all in my power to leave a richer school tradition to those who follow me.
In this case, it is the government school, itself, that is the source of morality, with the “creed” going so far as to express belief in the school as if it is some sort of deity. In this new perspective, it is the students who are obligated to promote the school. It’s not an declaration of hope for self improvement; it’s a pledge of fealty to a government enterprise. The school isn’t even presented as an expression of the community’s values; rather, the community merely fulfills its obligation to “maintain” it.
If anything, the new version is even more of “an establishment of religion.” The original involves an expression of religious belief only by the insinuation that praying to a Heavenly Father implies belief in Him. The new version involves repeated statements of explicit beliefs that the government is imposing on the students whose education it controls.
The people of Cranston should find this new sentiment deeply disturbing, and if the students take seriously the pledge to “leave a richer school tradition” for the future, they should take the opportunity to thank their elders, put the banner into storage for safekeeping, and develop a new one of their own — one that reaffirms the belief that the source of morals and ideals in a free and democratic society transcends the school and even the community that “maintains” it, reaching to such a higher power that it manifests most reliably in the individual who strives to grow “mentally and morally as well as physically.”