This dissertation is about how the political push for school prayer functions as an effort to retrench conservative social power and a conservative political worldview via identity-based politics. The New Christian Right (NCR) mobilizes secularized arguments of equality, victimhood and parental rights to advocate for school prayer. The NCR mobilizes to include religion in a unique cultural institution (public education) involved in the training of future generations of American citizens. The NCR’s mobilization aims at preserving Christian social power and privilege with little-to-no attention paid to protecting religion qua religion—not just Christian faith—in America.
The NCR, as a social movement, demonstrates how mobilization can inadvertently strip an identity-based movement of the core of its identity. The NCR employs arguments geared towards preserving privilege and not protecting the free exercise of religion. Their political goals gain voice, while concern for religious free exercise is noticeably absent. The NCR makes arguments for the inclusion of prayer that are politically expedient for preserving their privilege, namely relying on secular free speech rights to defend prayer and religious expression in public schools. Prayer is, at its core, supposed to be a sincere intercession and conversation with the divine. But the content falling under the category of protected speech is considerably dirtier, more vulgar, and more often secular. The NCR claims that prayer is speech akin unto the category of protected speech, treating it as not about divine communion but rather mere utterances of opinion. Reliance on these arguments indicates how the political goal of having religion and prayer injected into public education is emphasized at the expense of respecting religion, even their own conservative Christian faith. For a social movement organized around a religious identity, religion and faith are surprisingly absent from the argumentation, and political ends towards preserving social privilege are ever present. As articulated in their own words, arguments, and aims, the NCR is a movement interested in Christian privilege, not the Christian faith that led them to mobilize.
Dissertation Copy Available in the POLS Director of Graduate Studies’ (DGS) office? Yes