Faith (copy)

You don’t need a law degree to understand what motivates your garden-variety bully.

A bully looks for an easy mark but will often back down when challenged. Fortunately, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt seems to grasp this schoolyard code. He also knows a thing or two about the First Amendment, the establishment clause and the rights of public school students to engage in voluntary prayer.

The Cameron R-I School District, indeed all public schools in Missouri, should appreciate the Republican attorney general’s vigorous defense of prayer in public spaces.

Schmitt, in a letter to Cameron Superintendent Dr. Matt Robinson, vowed to support the Northwest Missouri school district in any potential lawsuit involving prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national association of atheists and agnostics, issued a complaint after some Cameron players and coaches prayed before and after football games. An attorney for the organization said the involvement of coaches amounts to coercion because players wouldn’t want to defy their wishes.

Compulsion is the key issue here. The establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another. Prayer on school grounds has generally been allowed, as long as it’s voluntary and not officially sanctioned.

Schmitt notes that no coach or school official forced players to participate and the prayer could not be heard on the stadium loudspeaker. Nor did anyone in Cameron lodge any kind of official complaint. The attorney general goes on to call the Freedom From Religion Foundation an anti-religious organization that seeks to intimidate local governments into surrendering citizens’ rights.

The organization sent out more than 1,000 complaint letters last year but filed only five lawsuits, the sign of a bully with a law license. “The vast majority of time, FFRF’s threats ring hollow,” Schmitt writes in the letter.

At times, the organization seems blinded by its opposition to religion. Last year, it filed a similar complaint after a football team’s coaches and fans dared to hold hands and pray for the head coach’s 4-year-old daughter, who was in the hospital battling a severe illness.

The attorney general is on solid ground here, both in terms of the law and common sense.

In fact, the most laughable part of this debate, one that Schmitt didn’t address, is the foundation’s rather paternalistic view that teenagers, in Cameron or anywhere else, are so easily compelled to do what adults and authority figures ask of them.

Have the people in this organization ever asked a teenager to do anything?