July 12

Public School Prayer (1995)

It was on this date, July 12, 1995, that President Bill Clinton, in a talk to students at James Madison High School in Vienna, VA, advocated school-prayer guidelines. He said in part, "nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools to religion-free zones or requires all religious expression to be left at the schoolhouse door."

In response, that August, the Department of Education issued a memo to public school superintendents concerning religious freedom. The Department advised that students cannot engage in religiously motivated harassment; that no student can be coerced into participating in any religious activity; that teachers and administrators cannot discourage or promote religious, or anti-religious, activity; that schools can teach about religion, but may not provide religious instruction; and that schools can teach about common civic values, but they must be neutral with respect to religion.

Not satisfied with neutrality, three months later (November 1995) Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook (R), supported by the Christian Coalition and others, introduced a Constitutional amendment allowing state-sponsored prayer in public schools. Istook's attack on the First Amendment died on 4 June 1998.

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Gunther Anders

Günther Anders (1902)

Also on this date, July 12, 1902, that Austrian philosopher Günther Anders, originally Günther Stern, was born in Breslau. An assimilated Jewish intellectual, he found that there were too many writers using the name Stern, so his editor suggested he write under a different name. Taking this literally, he adopted the name Anders — which means "different." Anders fled Nazi Germany for Paris in 1933, then to the United States in 1936. He returned to Europe in 1950.

Anders co-founded the European anti-nuclear movement in 1954. In 1956 Anders published his magnum opus, The Antiquatedness of Humanity, including "The Bomb and the Roots of Our Blindness toward the Apocalypse." Although his outlook for humanity was bleak, it was also conspicuously godless. In a letter to the grandson of his colleague, Herbert Marcuse, on the occasion of the birth of Marcuse's great-grandson, Anders wrote, "If I knew what a 'blessing' is, I'd close my letter: 'you have my blessing!'" Anders died on 17 December 1992 in Vienna.

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William Osler (1849)

Finally on this date, July 12, 1849, the Anglo-American physician William Osler was born in Bond Head, Canada West (now Ontario). He took his MD in 1872 and taught medicine from 1874-1884. In 1889 he became the first professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. By the turn of the century, he was the best-known physician in the English-speaking world and called the "most influential physician in history." He was Regius Chair of Medicine at Oxford from 1905 until his death on 29 December 1919.

Osler might have been speaking of medicine or religion when he counseled, "In seeking absolute truth we aim at the unattainable, and must be content with broken portions" and "The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism." His humanist ethic was visible in publications such as Counsels and Ideals (1905) and Michael Servetus (1909), and especially in his 1904 Ingersoll Lecture, Science and Immortality, in which he gives the scientific evidence against belief and adds,

It may be questioned whether more comfort or sorrow has come to the race since man peopled the unseen world with spirits to bless and demons to damn him.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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