Written by Don Byrd

Following massive marches across the country to protest gun violence in schools and advocate for stricter gun laws, one prominent Baptist pastor is pressing for a different response. Dallas minister Robert Jeffress argues that the real culprit in mass school shootings is….the separation of church and state.

The Dallas Morning News has more:

The solution — or the first step, as [Jeffress] sees it —  is for children to memorize the Ten Commandments in school.

“I think we need to return to that,” Jeffress said. “Teaching people, starting with our children, that there is a God to whom they’re accountable is not the only thing we need to do to end gun violence, but it is the first thing we need to do.”

In the Fox & Friends segment, the pastor railed against “a crusade by secularists” to keep religion off the public square in what he said was an effort to convince others that people can be good without God.

“Well, that’s been a dismal failure,” Jeffress said. “I remind our viewers that for the first 150 years of our nation’s history, our schoolchildren prayed, they read Scripture in school, they even memorized the Ten Commandments, including the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill.'”

Then he went on to blame a ruling by the Supreme Court 60 years ago.

Where to start? 

This is a cynical and, truly, disgusting appeal by someone who never met a problem he couldn’t blame on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In fact, we need not and should not abandon key constitutional protections in the pursuit of safer schools. Pitting the two against each other plays on our fears of the most heinous crimes – violence against a child – to justify the forced religious indoctrination of students in violation of the U.S. Constitution, a crime against a child of another sort.

It also defies logic and common sense. Does anyone beyond Jeffress really think that the problem of gun violence will be relieved by requiring school children to memorize “Thou Shalt Not Kill?” He is correct that mandatory prayers and Bible recitations were commonplace in America’s public schools 60 years ago. Marred by Jim Crow, among other violent expressions of hate, that age was hardly a panacea of peace and civility. Just the opposite for many, many Americans.

Far from causing division and violence, the separation of church and state – a primary means of ensuring religious liberty for all – has been important in minimizing civil strife by reducing the social conflict that inevitably emerges from religious favoritism. In short, religious liberty is a far surer pathway to peace than is religious indoctrination.

[UPDATE: For more context on this story, see Bob Allen’s report for Baptist News Global.]