Coercive Prayer Essay

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This amendment, commonly called the Establishment Clause, forms the foundation of the right of every American to practice their chosen religion freely and without the interference of the government. In 1947, the Supreme Court issued a statement emphasizing the separation of school and state based on this amendment. Those in favor of the practice of school-organized prayer draw their basis from the belief that students must be taught morals in school, and that morals cannot be taught properly without the use of religion.

Proponents of this viewpoint believe that an ethical code cannot exist without some higher power dictating it to mankind. There are flaws in this argument. First is the assumption that morals must be taught in public schools. Many people hold the belief that it is the duty of the parents, and not the responsibility of the school system, to teach the students matters of ethics.

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Another mistake is to assume that a moral law cannot be taught without the use of religion. There are many logical, non-religious reasons for following a moral code that is acceptable to this society. If you don’t agree to follow the morals of the rest of the citizens, you will quickly be incarcerated. Students are entitled to the right to express their religious beliefs in school, but it is unconstitutional for the administration to endorse or discriminate against any religion. Due to this interpretation, the practice of coercive prayer is unconstitutional, and should be kept forever separated from our nation’s schools.

The purpose of public schools is to educate, not indoctrinate. Schoolchildren are a captive audience. How can a grade school student view the routine presentation of prayers during the school day as a voluntary action? This invasive practice would create unnecessary divisions among children by making them unduly aware of their religious differences. Public schools are for everyone, whether they are Buddhist, Catholic, or Muslim. The practice of organized prayer in schools invades the student’s right to an education free of the discrimination which organized prayer would encourage. Many people mistake the religious indifference of public schools for hostility. Public schools must be very careful to neither discriminate for or against any single religion, and people often incorrectly perceive the schools attitudes toward religion. The non-discrimination requirement may seem wrong to many, but when religion has a home in public schools, it singles out the student who disagrees with the theology being taught. Prior to the Supreme Courts decisions against school prayer, it was standard practice to put the students who didn’t agree with the theology being taught in places of detention during Bible readings and prayers.

Often, debaters in favor of coercive prayer in school feel themselves compelled to quote statistics and percentages. This practice is not usually useful to the debate in general because there is rarely any proof to link the rampant rise of sin with the practice of school-endorsed prayer. Since the court outlawed prayer divorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, teen suicide went up 300%, and abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlation between the expulsion of prayer from our schools and the decline in morality. The question one must ask is, “What do these things have to do with the ban on coercive prayer?” There is no cause and effect relationship between the ban on faculty endorsed prayer in school and an increase of activities considered immoral. The connection between the above practices and the ban of organized prayer is best debatable.

The original intent of public schools is outdated. A another line of reasoning involves the theory that public schools in the United States were originally organized by early settlers to teach children to read and write with the intent to further the settlers religion, and the established system worked well for almost two hundred years. During the early years of public schooling, everyone who attended school shared the same beliefs. Today, an infinite number of religious groups are represented in our nations public schools. It would be a grave injustice to cater to one, only to risk offending all those who have been excluded. Once an institution is outdated and no longer contributing to society, it must be modified or eliminated.

Should the courts ever reverse their interpretation of the First Amendment, it would threaten the very diversity of beliefs, which the United States of America has always maintained. If Buddhist schoolchildren were forced to listen to the Lord’s Prayer every morning, the school would be undermining the parent’s right to teach religion to their children as the parent’s see fit. If, during the act of coercive prayer, administrators isolated students who maintained beliefs different from those practiced by the majority from their classmates, the administration would be facilitating the opening of an emotional and social rift between the students of different religious sects. This runs contrary to the purpose of public schools, whose function is not only to educate, but also to aid in social development. The First Amendment states very plainly that Congress is not allowed to make any law which involves the establishment of religion or interferes with the right of the citizens of this country to freely practice the religion of their choice.

After hearing arguments in favor of coercive prayer in public schools, there has yet to be an indisputable argument based entirely on established facts. The ranks of those who are in favor of the practice seem to be mostly comprised of conservatives who see the Supreme Court’s ban as a threat to their practice of evangelizing those of other religions in order to swell their own ranks. Even though this country is based upon the principle of majority rule, it is reassuring to see that the minority does have a chance for justice. Even though the Supreme Court has set a precedent, there will be many cases respecting coercive prayer brought before courts throughout the country for as long as this country stands. Thus the public is urged to protect themselves from the act of organized school prayer. Keep coercive prayer out of our public schools forever!

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