When will we recognize that religious freedom is the premier freedom of the Bill of Rights?

In 1644, the English poet John Milton wrote the Areopagetica, an impassioned plea against censorship after the government tried to control some of his earlier published work. In that earlier work Milton had stated his perspectives on biblical faith as against the pompous show of the state church. Milton’s Areopagitica would help ignite revolutionary fires in the American colonies. It contributed to a firmer foundation for the First Amendment freedoms in our own Constitution.

Ironically, that same First Amendment has become a lethal weapon aimed at one of the causes for which Milton stood—the free expression of religious ideals. Today the battle is being fought in the nation’s public school systems. Whether the particular issue is prayer, the posting of the Ten Commandments, or the gathering of students for quiet Bible study, the same tiresome complaint is heard: Because the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion, any trace of religion in any public school must be a constitutional trespass. The American Civil Liberties Union has used this convolution (along with its willingness to sue) to bully local school boards into erasing all evidence of religious expression from junior and senior high schools. The usual result has been that voluntary prayer or Bible study groups are refused permission to meet on school property, even though all manner of nonreligious student clubs are active. In a few cases, the decisions have been bizarre:

•The principal of the Lake Worth (Fla.) Community High School stopped the distribution of the 1982–83 yearbook when he discovered an objectionable page. On it was a picture and description of ...

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