"Those who oppose PRAYER in schools are ENEMIES of America!"

I was in a parking garage this morning, preparing to go to a doctor's appointment, and I saw hundreds of other cars: old cars, new cars, big cars, little cars.  However, one car caught my eye: it was an older-model beige sedan that had on its bumper a single sticker, with black letters on a yellow background.  It read: "Those who oppose PRAYER in schools are ENEMIES of America!"

I scrunched my brow and gave this a moment of thought. It was a shocking message, almost Stephen Colbert-like in its extremism.  I tried to imagine what would lead a person to proudly display a single sentiment like that on his or her car.  The sticker didn't say that those who oppose prayer in schools were "wrong" or "misguided" - no, it called those people "ENEMIES" of our nation. Wow.

Did they mean enemies, like terrorists or seditionists?  For following the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?  *scrunching brows again*

But first, what about the Constitution? 

I first imagined that this person with the bumper sticker was probably a right-wing conservative, but frankly, most of my right-wing conservative friends are libertarians and defenders of the Constitution, and they would be quite happy to keep their government out of their religion. 

In our First Amendment, as we all (should) know, it says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
There are two facets to this: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.  The former is, basically, freedom from an imposed government-established religion, and the latter is freedom of religion, to practice the religion of your choice.  Both have their limitations in different circumstances - for example, I can believe in vampirism all I want, but I can't practice that as a religion if it involves hurting others - but both are explicitly protected in general circumstances. 

The Constitution was meant to be a limit on government, while upholding the rights of the nation's people.  We want a nation ruled by moral, but rational, law that honors the wishes of the majority while continuing to uphold the rights of the minority.  Once the government sticks its proverbial nose in religious practice, all kinds of bad things can happen.  What if the government decided that Scientology or Santeria was the way to go, or that those who weren't Christians were heretics who should be burned at the stake?  (Didn't the "war on terrorism" begin as a fight against a violent theocracy in a faraway land?  Or something similar, I am told?  But I digress.)

It's true that having prayer in the public schools is not exactly the same as having a state-sponsored or state-mandated religion.  However, it comes awfully close, which was why school-sponsored prayer time was taken away in the first place.  When school prayer was first practiced, we lived in a more homogeneous society.  Yet now, the United States of America is, more than ever, a pluralistic nation.  Yes, we are filled with self-identified Christians, and our culture is overwhelmingly Christian in nature.  But think of the many millions of people who do not identify as Christian, or as any other religious faith, for that matter.  Think also of the many different kinds of Christianity there are.  What kind of Christian prayer are we talking about here?  A Protestant prayer?  A Catholic prayer?  Something that talks about God the Father, or Jesus alone?  Who decides what kind of prayer to use - the majority of the community?  But what if you lived in a school district that was predominantly populated by a religious group that was different than your own?

Very interesting map with unexpected results from religious institutions:

U.S. Census data on self-identified religious adherents: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0075.pdf

Second, does "prayer in schools" mean that prayer should be allowed in public schools?

Prayer is allowed in schools; in fact, the practice is protected under federal law.  Any public school student is permitted to pray, read scripture, or engage in devotional time or religious study (et cetera) with fellow students in an unobtrusive manner during noninstructional time (such as lunchtime, recess, or after school).  In other words, if your child wants to say grace before snack, read the Bible on the playground, hold hands and pray around the flagpole... all of that is allowed and protected, and is considered the right of the student to do so, as long as the student's practice does not interfere with the rights of other students. 

Extracurricular groups/activities that involve religious content (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bible Club, Muslim Student Union, whatever) are also allowed in schools and are to be given equal access as nonreligious extracurricular groups as long as they follow the same guidelines as the other groups.  Schools may disclaim sponsorship of these groups, and schools may not show favor towards a particular group.

However, as is to be expected, the teacher or administrative authority figure is not allowed to lead the students in prayer in public schools, to require particular religious adherence, and so forth.  Interestingly, the teacher is allowed to lead studies in religious scripture for students (such as the historical significance of the Bible), as long as it is in a prescribed academic manner, rather than for devotional purposes.

Obviously, one of the controversies involves prayer led by sports coaches, principals, or graduation speakers while at public school-sponsored events.  When is public prayer a matter of decorum, and when does it run afoul of civil rights?  This is a question still being addressed.

More info: http://www.allaboutpopularissues.org/prayer-in-school.htm
Third, prayer in what schools?

Only the public schools are affected by the "no (state-sponsored) prayer" laws, as public tax dollars pay for them to operate, and those schools are open to all.  However, a private religious school of any faith or denomination is allowed to lead, promote, or mandate prayer in any way that it sees fit.  In addition, any parent who wishes to homeschool his/her children in any of the fifty states is allowed to do the same, of course.  As a parent, if you choose to educate your child(ren) or hire someone else to do it, then you can have your child pray and practice any religion of your choosing at any time of the school day. 

So, really, there is absolutely nothing that would limit a student's right and prerogative to pray.  For me, as an advocate of personal prayer and a student of the Bible, I like how there is no prayer in schools.  We homeschool, but even if we were to send our children to public schools, we would still have family prayer and devotional time outside of school. 

But I've heard this message before.  More than one elderly relative has cried, "Since prayer was removed from the public schools, look what a mess they've become!"  Er, what about social dislocation, family issues, lack of investment in education, and a whole slew of factors that have negatively affected schools?  Or what about those things that have made some aspects of the schools much better in the last century?

I have a prayer for our nation: it's that we honor the rights of others to practice their faith (or no faith) how they see fit.  We spread our religious faith not through state-sponsored mandates or through the rule of the authority of the majority, but by the good example of our actions.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment!