Most emphatically I am not a Theocrat. I believe in a practical separation of church and state. But I'm also something of an accomodationist when it comes to religion - just as so many of our nation's founders were and its 44 presidents have been.
The atheist movement has become more and more vocal in recent decades - which I think is fine, by the way - and have brought attention to several church/state issues that needed to be addressed. Mandatory prayer in public, taxpayer funded schools, is a good example. However, it seems to me that sometimes these folks get a little nit-picky.
Here is a story near my home that is developing:
Our local media has given much coverage recently to a local pastor who was invited to speak at a 9/11 memorial service that was being held at a local high school. Check out one example of the coverage here.
Someone complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and within weeks foundation attorney Andrew Seidel became involved:
Essentially preaching a sermon to the children you know he quoted Luke 13:4 and the power of prayer, Jesus's response to 9/11, there's not much grey area here there's clearly a religious message and it's at a school sponsored event, therefore unconstitutional.
Church sponsored, but not mandatory as part of the curriculum, by the way.
As for whether or not this was a sermon (or merely a sarcastic characterization) I really can't say. Another report (see here) informs us that Pastor Alan Stewart mentioned "one bible verse and the word "God" six times" according to a transcript. I haven't access to that transcript and wasn't there so I really can't say a lot.
The Bible verse, quoting Jesus, was evidently Luke 13:4:
Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
That seems to me to be more of a philosophical than a purely religious text; but, to quote Attorney Seidel again, "Pastors only speak about religious issues for the most part" - which seems to make about as much sense as saying that attorneys only speak about legal issues for the most part.
What troubles me about these oft-repeated brouhahas is this: if teachers and students can't so much as mention God or religious concepts in the course of the education process, what makes it appropriate for our nation's legislatures and presidents to do this?
Okay, all this is boggy ground. And in response to this latest flap the school system has begun a retraining effort to hopefully avoid needless conflicts in the future. The FFF seems satisfied with that response. So now everybody is happy - except those who feel their right to free speech is being compromised.
I have e-mailed Pastor Stewart in an effort to get a transcript of what he actually said. I'll revisit this again if I am able to get that.