Prevent Coercive Prayer in Public SchoolsThe First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of Americareads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, orprohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This amendment, commonly called theEstablishment Clause, forms the foundation of the right of every American topractice their chosen religion freely and without the interference of thegovernment. In 1947, the Supreme Court issued a statement emphasizing theseparation of school and state based on this amendment. Students are entitledto the right to express their religious beliefs in school, but it isunconstitutional for the administration to endorse or discriminate against anyreligion.
Due to this interpretation, the practice of coercive prayer isunconstitutional, and should be kept forever separated from this nation’sschools.
The purpose of public schools is to educate, not indoctrinate.
Schoolchildren are a captive audience. How could a second-, fourth-, or evensixth-grader view the routine recital of prayers during the school day as avoluntary action? This invasive practice would create unnecessary divisionsamong children by making them unduly aware of their religious differences.
Public schools are for everyone, whether they are Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, orTaoist. The practice of organized prayer in schools invades the student’s rightto an education free of the discrimination which organized prayer wouldencourage.
Many people mistake the religious indifference of public schools forhostility. Public schools must to be very careful to neither discriminate fornor against any single religion, and people often incorrectly perceive theschools’ attitudes toward religion. The non-discrimination requirement may seemwrong to many, but when religion has a home in public schools, it singles outthe students who disagree with the theology being taught. Prior to the SupremeCourt’s decisions against school prayer, it was standard practice to put thestudents who didn’t agree with the theology being taught in places of detentionduring Bible readings and prayers.
One argument in favor of the practice of school-organized prayer drawsits basis from the belief that students must be taught morals in school, andthat morals cannot be taught in the proper manner without the use of religion.
Proponents of this viewpoint believe that an ethical code cannot exist withoutsome higher power dictating it to mankind, because humans have not the self-control to follow such a code unless there is a deity to distribute rewards tothe faithful and mete out punishments to the transgressors.
There are several obvious fallacies in this argument. The first is theassumption that morals must be taught in public schools. Many people hold thebelief that it is the duty of the students’ parents, and not the responsibilityof the school system, to teach the students matters of ethics. Another mistakeis 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 isacceptable to this society. If one does not agree to follow the morals of therest of the citizens of the U. S., one will quickly be incarcerated. TheAmerican people are already under the power of an entity which wields immensepower and has the capacity to punish those who do not conform to society’sideals: the federal government.
Often, debaters in favor of coercive prayer in school feel themselvescompelled to quote statistics and percentages, a practice which is not usuallyuseful to the debate in general because there is rarely any proof to link therampant rise of “sin” with the practice of school-endorsed prayer. “Since thecourt outlawed prayerdivorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, and teensuicide went up 300% abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlationbetween the expulsion of prayer from our schools and the decline in morality.”(Geisler) The question one must ask is, “What do these things have to do withthe ban on coercive prayer?” The answer, of course, is, “Nothing.” Anyone whois convinced that there is a cause and effect relationship between the ban onfaculty endorsed prayer in school and an increase of activities considered bymany to be immoral must either have far greater insight than the foremostrational thinkers of our time, or must consider the issue of whether or notcoercive prayer is being utilized in school as a matter of great personalinterest.The connection between the above practices and the ban of organizedprayer is dubious at best.
A third line of reasoning involves the fact that public schools in theUnited States were originally organized by early settlers to teach children toread and write with the intent to further the settlers’ religion, and the factthat the established system worked well for almost two hundred years. Theoriginal intent of public schools is outdated now. During the early years ofpublic schooling, everyone who attended school shared the same beliefs. Today,a myriad of different religious groups are represented in our nation’s publicschools, and it would be a grave injustice to cater to one, only to riskoffending all those who have been excluded. Once an institution is outdated andno longer contributing to society, it must be modified or eliminated.
Some argue that the First Amendment doesn’t actually separate state andreligion, but encourages religion, and, in fact, implies nothing in terms ofseparation of state and religion. “The second clause of the first amendmentinsists that the government should do nothing to discourage religion. Butforbidding prayer in schools discourages religion” (Geisler) On the contrary,forbidding prayer in schools does not discourage religion, but does preventoffense and the alienation of students who have viewpoints which conflict withthe established religion. Each student has the constitutional right to worshiphowever the student wishes, even during school hours, so long as the studentdoesn’t disturb classmates and prevent themselves and other students fromcompleting their assigned work. Since the Supreme Court has specifically statedthat any form of coercive prayer is a breach of the rights of the student, thesolution seems to be obvious. The reason that many people who endorse coerciveprayer have problems with the Supreme Court ban is not that citizens feel thattheir freedom of speech is under attack, but that their practice of forcingtheir viewpoints upon others who profess different beliefs has been outlawed.
This practice itself is despicable in that, should the courts ever reverse theirinterpretation of the First Amendment, it would threaten the very diversity ofbeliefs which the United States of America has always maintained. Were Buddhistschoolchildren forced to listen to the Lord’s Prayer every morning, the schoolwould be undermining the children’s parents’ right to teach religion to theirchildren as the parents see fit. If, during the act of coercive prayer,administrators isolated students who maintained beliefs different from thosepracticed by the majority from their classmates, the administration would befacilitating the opening of an emotional and social rift between the students ofdifferent religious sects. This obviously runs contrary to the purpose ofpublic schools, whose function is not only to educate, but also to aid in socialdevelopment. The First Amendment states very plainly that Congress is notallowed to make any law which involves the establishment of religion orinterferes with the right of the citizens of this country to freely practice thereligion of their choice. There is no question of ambiguity or vague wording inthe First Amendment.
After reviewing countless essays and manifestoes in favor of coerciveprayer in public schools, there has yet to be an indisputable argument basedentirely on established facts. The ranks of those who are in favor of thepractice 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 inorder to swell their own ranks. Even though this country is based upon theprinciple of majority rule, it is reassuring to see that the minority does havea chance for justice. Even though the Supreme Court has set a precedent, therewill be many cases respecting coercive prayer brought before courts throughoutthe country for as long as this country stands. Thus the public is urged tomilitantly protect themselves from the act of organized school prayer. Keepcoercive prayer out of our public schools forever!
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