Pardon me a moment while I put on some protective gear. It may be needed once this post becomes public. Okay, now that I am suited up in Kevlar, tucked away in my safe room, and brandishing my weapons, let’s talk about prayer in school. (Next week I will move on from school related posts.)
I am a Catholic Christian, and as I have said before, make no apologies for that. The reason that I add the, “no apology part,” is that I live in a place where being Christian is the norm but many don’t accept Catholics as being Christian.
Before I get around to my personal opinion on the matter let’s quickly review why prayer in public school is such a hot topic to both those that are opposed and those that are in favor.
Those in Favor Claim: *
School prayer would allow students an opportunity to observe their religious beliefs during the school day.
Schools must do more than train children’s minds academically. They must also nurture their souls and reinforce the values taught at home and in the community.
A simple and voluntary school prayer does not amount to the government establishing a religion, any more than do other practices common in the U.S. such as the employment of Congressional chaplains or government recognition of holidays with religious significance and National Days of Prayer.
To ban school prayer diminishes the religious freedom of students who would like to pray.
Those Opposed Claim*
School prayer violates the separation of church and state clause of the Constitution
School prayer is inherently coercive and cannot be implemented in a way that is truly voluntary.
Prayer in school is already legal. Students are already allowed to pray on a voluntary, non-disruptive way.
The public school system is created for all students and supported by all taxpayers. It should therefore remain neutral on religious issues over which students and taxpayers will differ.
My Two Cents Worth
I honestly don’t understand why this topic is so prone to causing argument and division. First of all, prayer has not been banned in public schools. I know of several schools in my area where voluntary, student initiated and student lead prayer circles are held on a regular basis. Staff are present at these times because any student activity at school must be monitored for safety. At one particular school, I know that staff often volunteer to be present during prayer circle time because they know that just being there demonstrates their support. Also note that monitoring students during prayer circle time is done on a voluntary basis; no teacher is assigned to this as a required duty.
Let’s talk about the part of the Constitution that mandates a “separation of church and state.” Have you read that document recently? The Constitution does not address this topic. That comment about separation of church and state was made by Thomas Jefferson is a letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists.
What the U.S. Constitution does say is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Sound familiar? Our country was founded in large part because people wanted freedom to practice their faith even if it wasn’t totally in line with the reining government. They didn’t want the politics or politicians controlling their spiritual lives; I don’t either (Can I get an amen?). The other part is that the government can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. I never want that to change either (Can I get another amen?).
I know there are some people reading this that will claim that back when the school day was opened with a teacher led prayer we didn’t have all the problems we have today. Mass shootings have become common, drug use is destroying lives more than any other time in history and people in general (not just kids) are more disengaged from one another. Is the absence of teacher lead prayer related to the increase in our society’s problems or is it that fewer families. I say no, the two are not connected.
According to self reporting through the Gallup pole questions, 40% of Americans report regular church attendance. The actual percentage is below 20%.* It is no longer reasonable to expect public schools to reinforce the values that children are taught at home because in truth there is a significant number of parents that are better at lip service than they are about teaching morality and character to their little ones.
We are a diverse nation and not every home embraces the same moral compass. Those that smirk and say, “Well, they should.” would quickly change their minds if it turned out that what was taught wasn’t in line with their own idea of what is scrupulous.
Several years back I was talking with a group of educators and the topic of school prayer came up. I tried to hold my tongue (I was only one of two Catholic Christians in a staff of almost 100) as they all seemed to agree that teacher lead prayer would make a positive difference in the students and thus the community and the country.
While I tried to refrain from sharing my opinion my mind wandered to the the time my son was young and he came to me very distraught. I learned his friend Michael had informed him (according to Michael’s mother) that he would be going to Hell after he died as would his entire family. Michael had been taught that Catholics worship idols and are not real Christians.
I had to say something yet I didn’t want to offend these ladies; several I considered to be friends. I wanted to make them think. I started by asking a clarifying question. “Are you saying that you think it would be good for us to start our day with teacher lead prayer?”
The neighbor that had told her child, who in turn told my son that his family would spend eternity in Hell certainly wasn’t a person that I wanted to lead a prayer that my child would have to hear. This neighbor earned her paycheck teaching in the district schools.
My next question cut to the chase. “How would you feel about me leading the students in reciting the “Hail Mary” prayer?” Their eyes grew wide and jaws fell slightly slack, followed by two seconds of pregnant silence. Finally, one person mumbled, “That would be different, you can’t do that.” The bell rang and the school day started.
They never discussed the topic again in my presence, although I would venture to say they did revisit it in my absence. I hope they thought more about my question. My intention wasn’t to divide, but to give reason to reflect on how respect should be granted to all, not just to those that pray the same way that we do.
I value prayer, it is an important part of my life. I can pray anytime and anywhere that I want to communicate with my God. Sometimes that is when I am at church, other times I may be at home, driving my vehicle, at a restaurant or even in a school. What’s amazing is that this privilege doesn’t discriminate; it is available to any American that chooses to enjoy it. The Constitution has it covered, let’s not mess with it.
Please share your thoughts (prayers are welcome too) in the comments or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the peace of the Lord be with you.
*Information regarding the pros and cons of school prayer was gleaned from allabouthistory.org
Thanks to the following for providing photographs; Ben White, NEonbrand, David Beale, and yours truly