ABOUT PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
|"School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible
because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who
are nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the
political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that
they are insiders, favored members of the political community. U.S.
Supreme Court decision, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe,
|"And when thou prayest, thou shalt
not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the
synagogues and in the corners of the streets that they may be seen of
men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou,
when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy
door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which
seeth in secret shall reward thee openly..." Matthew 6:5-6, a
little quoted passage from the Bible, King James Version.|
Misconceptions about public school prayer:
Many Christians have written essays, prayers or poems about school prayer. They
frequently contain assumptions about prayer in the public schools which conflict
with actual legislation. It is true that students in some school districts
have been forbidden to carry their Bible to school, or to wear
a religious T-shirt to class. However, these local regulations are
made by school officials in violation of the U.S. Constitution and of
federal and state laws. Usually, a brief discussion between a lawyer
specializing in civil rights matters and school officials quickly clears
up the conflict.
A typical poem is shown below. One source identifies this "New
School Prayer" as having been written by a teenager in Bagdad, AZ -- a small mining
community, with a population of about 660. 2 However, we have seen almost
identical prayers attributed to individuals in other areas of the U.S.
"THE NEW SCHOOL PRAYER"
What the laws say:
|Now I sit me down at school,
Where praying is against the rule.
|Praying in school is not against the law. In
fact, the U.S. Constitution guarantees students the
right to pray in public schools; it is a protected form of free
A student can pray on the school bus, in the corridors, in the cafeteria,
in their student-run Bible club, at the
flagpole, sports stadium, and
elsewhere on school grounds. They can even pray silently before and
after class in the classroom. They are not allowed to pray
solely Christian prayers as an organized part of the school
schedule. However, they may be able to hear or read prayers from a variety of religious
traditions and inspiring statements from secular sources. Prayers
cannot solely be from a single religious faith group.
|For this great nation under God,
Finds mention of Him very odd.
|This is also untrue. On average, Americans are
quite religious. Church attendance is higher than in any other
industrialized nation. Attendance in the US is twice that of Canada and
four times that of many European countries. However, in order to preserve the separation of
church and state, there are a few restrictions on prayer in government facilities
-- including public schools.
If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
|Bible passages can be recited in class during the study of
comparative religions. But they would have to be balanced by passages
from other religions and statements from ethical movements.
|And anytime my head I bow
Becomes a Federal matter now
|As noted above, individual students are quite free to pray
throughout their public school building and throughout their school day.
|Our hair can be purple, orange, or green,
That's no offense; it's a freedom scene.
The law is specific, the law is precise.
Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.
|As noted above, students are free to pray almost anywhere in
|For praying in a public hall
Might offend someone with no faith at all.
|It is true that, according to the Golden
Christians should not perform acts which offend other people. Also,
Matthew 6:6 does discourage Christians from engaging in public
prayer. But the main
reason for restriction on school prayer is the principle of separation of church and
In silence alone we must meditate.
||Some states have passed laws requiring or
allowing a moment of silence
before class. But students are free to engage in prayer, meditation, or
any other thought process, as long as they are silent.
God's name is prohibited by the state.
||It is not. One example is the national motto: "In God We Trust."
|We're allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
They've outlawed guns,...
|Students are allowed wide latitude in dress and
jewelry, including religious clothing and
accessories. It is true that schools do prohibit guns from the campus,
for security reasons.
|...but FIRST the Bible.
To quote the Good book makes me liable.
|The Bible is not outlawed. The U.S.
Constitution protects students' freedom of speech. They can quote freely from the Bible in
their essays and projects.
The teacher can read passages from the Bible can even
be read in the classroom, as part of a comparative religion class.
But they have to be balanced with passages from the texts of other
religions and from secular movements.
|We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
And the 'unwed daddy,' our Senior King.
It's "inappropriate" to teach right from wrong,
We're taught that such "judgments" do not belong.
|In most schools, students have the right to
democratically elect their Senior Queen & King.
Ethics and morality can be taught in school. But
they cannot be taught from the perspective of a single branch of a single
religion. The full range of beliefs of right and wrong need to be
included. (See Note 1)
|We can get our condoms and birth controls,
||Some schools do have condom dispensers and/or health
clinics. These have been shown to be a very effective way of reducing
unwanted pregnancy and STD transmission.
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
||True. Study of Witchcraft (a.k.a. Wicca) would be valid in
a comparative religion course. So would totem poles, which are part of
Native American spirituality. Vampire legends could form a part of history
or sociology courses.
|But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
No word of God must reach this crowd.
wrong. The Ten Commandments can be taught; they
can even be posted on the walls of public
schools. However, they must
not appear by themselves. Other religious rules of behavior and secular
laws must accompany the Ten Commandments to give a balanced cultural display.
|It's scary here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the school's a mess.
So, Lord, this silent plea I make:
Should I be shot; My soul please take!
|It is important to realize that schools are
relatively safe places. An average of about two dozen students have been shot
in U.S. schools annually in recent years. This compares with thousands shot
outside of school buildings each year.
Major factors involved in past in-school shootings have been:
|very serious mental illness on the part of the perpetrator(s), or|
|revenge for years of hate, marginalization and rejection of the
perpetrators by the school's social elite.|
If prayers from a single religion were re-introduced into public classrooms, they would provide one more
criteria by which the majority could discriminate against and
marginalize minorities. The end result would probably be more school
violence, not less.
Note 1: Concerning the teaching of ethics and morals:
This is sometimes a delicate matter, prone to controversy:
|There are many moral and ethical topics about which a social consensus
exists: e.g. abolition of slavery, racism, universal suffrage. These are
taught freely in public schools with little objection. |
|There are some topics about which a near consensus exists, but on which
vocal minorities hold divergent views. For example:
|Over 99% of earth and
biological scientists believe that the Theory of Evolution is accurate.
Conservative Christians generally believe in a competing belief: Creation
Science. Many educators feel that only Evolution should be taught in science
class, because Creation Science is not really a science. But others argue that creation science can appropriately be taught in
a comparative religion class. |
|Birth control is generally accepted in society,
and is practiced by most sexually active, fertile couples who are married or
who live together. Many educators feel
that information on birth control is an important topic to teach; others feel that it
is inappropriate to educate teens on this matter. It is sometimes difficult
for teachers to reach a compromise on these topics.|
|There are some legal topics about which no social consensus exists at all:
access to abortion, spanking,
physician assisted suicide, pre-marital sex, etc.
Some argue that no education is complete unless a student examines
all sides of these issues. Most educators believe that no single position on these topics should be
taught as "right or wrong"|
- The text of the Supreme Court's decision in Santa Fe Independent School
Dst. v. Doe is at: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/
- "Welcome to 'Key to the City's' page for Bagdad..." at: http://www.pe.net/
Copyright © 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on
Last updated 2006-FEB-04
Author: B.A. Robinson