Since the beginning of America our prodigious country has always been a religious one. In fact, the main reason our ancestors came across the sea to this new unknown world was for religious freedom. Schools had prayer and studied the Bible extensively. Teachers taught their pupil’s morals from the Holy Bible and daily prayer added a sense of comfort, clarity, and unity to the classroom. Now, 200 years later, religion is being attacked from every corner. This is especially evident in our school system. In 1962 the very first case against having prayer in school made it to the Supreme Court, and subsequently it is now banned from schools.
Since then, students have become more and more violent, confrontational, and their academic abilities have clearly suffered. Quality education is about more than simply academics. Allowing prayer in schools will allow future generations of America to become more educated and tolerant of people who are different from them. Many people believe that if prayer is allowed in schools it will open the door to other religious activities and certain children will be coerced into joining a religion by their peers and educators, and feel ostracized if they don’t.
These individual’s concerns are valid because there have been cases of religion being forced upon students. Arthur Spitzer, a member of the American Law Institute, summarized the Paul Michael Herring v. Dr. John Key case which gives an example of Jewish children who are discriminated by their peers and teachers in school. One of the students was physically forced by his teacher to bow his head during a Christian prayer at school. The Jewish students’ Star of David was considered a gang sign by the teachers, so they were forbidden to wear it while the other children wore crosses.
They were forced to attend Christian assemblies, and after the assemblies vicious verbal attacks were directed toward the children where they were called, “Jew boys” and “Jewish jokers. ” One of the students was disciplined by the principal and had to write an essay titled, “Why Jesus Loves Me” (Spitzer, 1997). This is clearly an example of discrimination and hostility towards a certain religion. Students shouldn’t be forced to pray or be a target of bullying because they choose to exhibit their beliefs, but all children should be allowed to pray openly at school without fear of animosity from others.
This will create an environment where respect of all people and religions is cultivated. If teachers pray in school they are opening their students’ eyes to the fact that there are different religions in the world. Not every teacher is of the same faith, some don’t belong to any religion. If they are allowed to make the decision whether or not to pray their students will be more open minded about other religions. The same goes for the students themselves. Harmony and respect will ensue if all students are able to demonstrate their diverse faiths with equal respect from their peers.
Not one student will feel pressured to join a religion different from their own. Meg Butler, who has her J. D degree, and her master’s degree in education, said that even when students are exposed to different faiths, out of one hundred non-religious children, only four of them will join a religion when they become adults (2012). The likelihood of a student changing religions because he or she hears a teacher praying in school is very slim. Students, grades K-12, will spend a little less than one thousand hours in school each year, and about 7760 hours outside of school.
Unless the students are being drilled every single day at school that they must join a certain religion, which is unconstitutional, the reality is that they will hardly be persuaded to jump ships and switch to a religion that differs from their own. If students have questions about some religions they observe at school they can ask their parents or religious leaders, and if, by chance, they do choose to join a different religion isn’t that their right as a citizen of the United States’? As long as the school isn’t promoting one religion over another, all are fairly represented, and none are deplored by the district then it’s constitutional.
There are those who believe that having any kind of religion in a public school setting is unconstitutional. They are the radicals though and most people simply feel as though having prayer in public schools, where children are required to attend, means one religion will be supported over others. Lee Ann Rabe, an accomplished law clerk to a district court judge, brought to our attention that many people also consider a moment of silence to be unconstitutional as well because it is an indirect prayer. When a moment of silence is chosen in place of prayer, the students know they are supposed to be praying.
Rabe, 2004). If a school does favor one religion over the rest then yes, it is unconstitutional. The same is true though if the school does not allow prayer in public schools at all because it infringes on our right to freedom of religion and speech. There is no need to take religion completely out of school, nor should we make schools congruent to a church where religion is taught in every corner. According to a study conducted in 2013, 69% of Americans believe that the First Amendment says “separation of church and state.
David Barton, a notable political activist, gives an insight to why the general population believes the above words are in the First Amendment. Barton quoted a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists that stated, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state” (2013, para. 19).
Ever since Jefferson wrote that letter the expression “separation of church and state” has echoed inaccurately across America (Barton, 2013). Thomas Jefferson did not mean for us to interpret this letter as his blessing to take religion completely out of the state, instead he was simply saying what the First Amendment actually proclaims, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ” The Amendment in no way says that there should not be religion in public schools, but if we continue down the path we are on religion will be taken out of schools completely.
If my ideas are implemented they will keep our country from eliminating prayer in school and prevent the government from going against the Constitution. In the past few years minority groups have been speaking loudly while the majorities have been sitting back afraid, or not caring, to make a ripple. Minorities do need to be protected, and that’s what is so great about our country, but letting people act upon their freedom of religion isn’t forcing minorities to conform. There should be no need to bring the matter to the Supreme Court.
Howard Baik, the chief legal officer for a $150 million VC-backed, SaaS Technology Company, reviewed the first case against school prayer was brought to the Supreme Court in 1962, Lee vs. Weisman. A Jewish leader was asked to give an opening and closing prayer at the schools graduation. The principal explained to the Rabbi that the payer should be nondenominational to respect the rights of others. This act was taken to court and the Supreme Judges decided that since the principal asked the Rabbi to give the prayer that meant it was a “state-sponsored and state-directed religious exercise in a public school” (Baik, 2001, p. 245).
With that idea in mind the Judges explained that the school was showing favor to one religion over others indicating a possible formation of a state religion (Baik, 2001). While there was no evidence indicating the Principal purposefully chose the Rabbi with the intent to endorse a certain religion, there also was no evidence that he was innocent. Lee vs. Weisman set a precedence that has been followed in hundreds of cases since then. The problem is that throughout the years, as prayer in school has become more unpopular, courts have been ruling more and more in favor of no prayer of any kind in a public school, or at school events.
Teachers are no longer allowed to read their religious texts at school during silent reading time, or even speak about religion to their students. Supposedly, prayer is allowed if it’s completely student initiated, but in another court case Baik reviewed, James vs Chandler, a dangerous precedence was set. A student named Chandler wanted to dispute the Alabama State Statute which stated that prayer could be said at graduation ceremonies and other school activities if it was initiated by the students. The court ruled in favor of Chandler declaring the statute unconstitutional.
The Supreme Judges did decide that genuine student initiate prayer had to be upheld otherwise they would be taking away freedom of religion (Baik, 2001). The problem this poses is how can we know if a prayer is truly student initiated? If a school is located in a particularly religious area it would be very easy to claim that since the faculty are religious they are, in a roundabout way, responsible for a student initiated prayer, thus endorsing a state religion. If prayer is allowed in public schools people believe an atmosphere will be created where one or two religions are obviously favored by the residents, creating a state religion.
When nondenominational or minority denominational students are required to listen to a prayer they may feel excluded or uncomfortable. There are many examples of schools that say one type of prayer, and the students are forced to listen. Dr. Joseph Loconte, a renowned human and religious rights activists, shares the example of a school in Mississippi that used to have prayer over the intercom every morning before the announcements (2015). It’s almost impossible for a student to escape a booming prayer echoing throughout the school hallways.