Piety vs. Freethinking

Public opinion polls have shown that freedom in general, or in specific application, such as freedom of the press or of worship, repeatedly is mentioned as one of the most cherished advantages of the American form of government. Most Americans are proud to member freethinkers, such as Walt Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, and others, and endorse the principles of freethinking -- however, usually only in abstracto. When it comes to concrete instances, "free thought" rapidly declines in stature and favorable appraisal. It is often said that America is a land of freedom of religion, but hardly from religion. For example, one who admits being an atheist generally meets with suspicion, rejection, and often active intolerance. This conflict between "free thought" and Christian piety has been visible in the long-drawn-out battles and polemics concerning prayer in public schools. Many parents are afraid that their children will suffer confusion at the hand of this open conflict. As one indignant mother put it:

What sort of country is this becoming! My son asked me the other day: "Mother, why can't we pray in school anymore?" I didn't know what to tell him. This nation has a great Christian heritage and should insist upon teaching and showing it in the class room. How can I make my child understand that he is living in a God-fearing country, if at the same time he is not allowed to pray in class rooms?

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