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School Prayer: An Issue of Tolerance

School prayer. It’s a hot issue these days. This essay will consist of the many arguments for school prayer along with my personal refutations or opinions of the arguments, as well as some stuff from the anti-prayer side. As you can probably see, I’m am strongly against school prayer, and I will show you why in this essay.

PRO-PRAYER PROPAGANDA

In this section I will quote and explain people from the pro-prayer side of the issue. In the first part of this section, I will quote Dr. Norman Geisler, dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary, located in North Carolina. I will also include my refutations of the points he brings up. Now, on with it. Here is what Dr. Norman Geisler has to say about this in his sermon “The Top 10 Reasons for Voluntary School Prayer”:

“1. Our government was based on religious principles from the very beginning. the Declaration of Independence says: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights...’ Indeed, it speaks of God, creations, God-given moral rights, the providence of God, and a final Day of Judgment - all of which are religious teachings. Indeed, the Supreme Court affirmed (Zorach, 1952) that ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ And a school prayer has been an important part of our religious experience from the beginning.”

There are many problems with this argument. As you can see, he quotes the Declaration of Independence. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s actually supporting the other side of the argument. What I mean is, the Declaration states “that all men are created equal.” If there was prayer in school, it wouldn’t be equal, as it is biased towards Christians. Also, he must not know his American history too well, because then he’d know that the writers of the Declaration escaped from their home countries because of religious intolerance. Putting prayer in schools doesn’t teach tolerance. It teaches “Be like this or be an outcast,” something which young children should not be subjected to. Geisler also quotes the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court actually followed what they had said, they wouldn’t have outlawed prayer in schools in the 60s. All in all, a horrible argument which really states the reasons why prayer shall be kept out of schools. Here’s number two of the 10:

“2. The First Amendment does not separate God and government but actually encourages religion. It reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The first clause merely declares that the federal government cannot establish one religion for all the people. It says nothing about "separation of church and state." In fact, five of the 13 states that ratified it had their own state religions at the time. The second clause insists that the government should do nothing to discourage religion. But forbidding prayer in schools discourages religion.”

A slightly better argument, but still not a good one. Let me break it down for you. The 1st Amendment does not encourage religion, nor discourage it. It reads “Congess shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He misinterprets it. Putting prayer in schools does respect the establishment of a religion, specifically Christianity. On with his 3rd reason.

“3. Early congressional actions encouraged religion in public schools. For example, the Northwest Treaty (1787 and 1789) declared: ‘Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of learning shall forever be encouraged.’ Thus, religion, which includes prayer, was deemed to be necessary.”

First of all, notice how he said “early congressional actions.” This was a time when most of the country was primarily Christian or Jewish. Today, that’s much different. We have people from many varieties of religions, like Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. Today, prayer would just cause a stir among non-Christians and Christians alike. Now onto to reason number 4:

“4. Early presidents, with congressional approval, made proclamations encouraging public prayer. President Washington on Oct. 3, 1789, declared: ‘Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me 'to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer...'"

He says “early presidents,” yet only mentions one. The 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson, was strongly for the separation of church and state. He was also deist. Many times he insulted Christianity. Today we still celebrate Thanksgiving, and this is not recognized as a religious holiday. Now for reason number 5:

“5. Congress has prayed at the opening of every session since the very beginning. Indeed, in a moment of crisis at the very first Continental Congress Benjamin Franklin urged prayer and observed the ‘In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection. - Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered... And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? ...I therefore beg leave to move - that henceforth prayer imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.’ Congress has begun with prayer ever since. If the government can pray in their session, why can't the governed pray in their (school) sessions?”

Simple answer. It’s because we are the governed that we cannot have school prayer. People in Congress are old enough to make their own decisions about things. Children wouldn’t understand when they should make their own decisions. He says that God’s protection has been over this country because of the prayer, but then again any country can say this, since there is no credible evidence of it. Hence, just because people think that this country is protected by God doesn’t make it right to oppress people for it. Next to that, Ben Franklin has bashed Christianity as well. Now onto number 6:

“6. Public schools had prayer for nearly 200 years before the Supreme Court ruled that state-mandated class prayers were unconstitutional (Engle, 1962). The fact that prayer was practiced for nearly 200 years establishes it by precedent as a valid and beneficial practice in our schools.”

That’s because 200 years before the ruling most people were religious. But now, since science has come a long way, people have different thoughts. Also, there are many religions who don’t believe in the Judeo/Christian God, so praying would be an insult to their beliefs. All of what he said was based on opinion rather than fact. Just because something was considered “right” in the past doesn’t mean it is today. Now to number 7:

“7. Since the court outlawed prayer, the nation has been in steady moral decline. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett revealed in his cultural indexes that between 1960 and 1990 there was a steady moral decline. During this period divorce double, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, teen suicide increased 300%, child abuse reached an all-time high, violent crime went up 500% and abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlation between the expulsion of prayer from our schools and the decline in morality.”

From what I can see, this guy thinks that because people don’t pray as much anymore that it causes all that. Highly doubtful. It’s just the change in times. Also, in the 60s there was a lot of things happening; Vietnam, Civil Rights Movement, hippies, and a lot of other things that had great impact on how today is. The above quote would tend to support the lack of a god rather than the existence of one. Some people need to know the difference between morals and ethics. Ethics are what’s universally right and wrong, morals are what an individual believes is right or wrong. Pushing your morals on someone else is not the way to go, nor is it right. Ever since 1990, a lot of those statistics have gone down. Onto number 8:

“8. Morals must be taught, and they cannot properly be taught without religion. There cannot be a moral law without a moral Law Giver. And there is no motivation for keeping the moral law unless there is a moral Law Giver who can enforce it by rewards and punishments.”

Wrong again. Morals can be taught without religion. Most of the time this is beneficial, as you don’t have to follow what a group of people teach. There can be morals without a “Law Giver”, and there have been. Example; one person’s morals might be to keep his religion a personal practice and not force it on people. Another person’s, such as Dr. Geisler, is to push his religion on other people. Next to that, there are “law givers” that reward and punish. They’re called parents and government. Number 9 now:

“9. Forbidding prayer and other religious expressions in public schools establishes, in effect, the religion of secularism. The Supreme Court has affirmed that there are religions, such as "secular humanism", which do not believe in God (Torcaso, 1961). Justice Potter (Abington, 1963) rightly feared that purging the schools of all religious beliefs and practices would lead to the "establishment of a religion of secularism." In fact, the beliefs of secular humanism are just the opposite of the Declaration of Independence. By not allowing theistic religious expression, the courts have favored the religious beliefs of secular humanism, namely, no belief in God, God-given moral laws, prayer and a Day of Judgment.”

And what’s wrong with secularism? Without it, you might be forced to be a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, or whatever. Without it you wouldn’t be able to practice your religion as you wish. Dr. Greisler should be grateful for secularism. That’s what this country was built upon in the first place; the right to practice religion privately. Opposite of the Declaration? He must forget that the Declaration of Independence isn’t the Constitution. Laws are in the Constitution, not the Declaration of Independence. Secular humanism isn’t even taught. I don’t know where this guy gets his ideas. He sounds like the kind of person who’d believe a clergyman if they said 2+2=5 just because “god said so.” Geisler sounds as if he wants to start mandatory teaching of Christianity in schools, which is only allowed in private schools. The schools don’t teach against it, and they don’t teach for it. They shouldn’t. Onto to number 10:

“10. To forbid the majority the right to pray because the minority object, is to impose the irreligion of the minority on the religious majority. Forbidding prayer in schools, which a three-quarters majority of Americans favors, is the tyranny of the minority. It is minority rule, not democracy. Why should an irreligious minority dictate what the majority can do? The majority wishes to preserve our moral and spiritual values and, thus, our good nation.”

By Geisler’s logic, the blacks should’ve remained slaves in the South just because they were the minority. Three quarters majority is a lot, but the other quarter still amounts to millions of people. I guess the minority has quite large numbers. There are many Christians that oppose prayer in schools. They say if you want to pray, do so at a private school. Doesn’t Geisler know what happens when the majority is the only one that gets a say? The minority rebels. Hell we could have another civil war (not because of the school prayer issue, but if the majority did decide everything). The minority doesn’t rule anymore than the majority. Also, if 75% of the country wants school prayer, why hasn’t that passed through Congress, as it takes only 66% to pass a bill. Where does he get his info anyway? Most of the minority are religious. Only 10% of the country are atheists or agnostics. This is still a large amount of people. In conclusion, if you want prayer, go to a private school. Public school is for everybody, not just Christians. The Bible itself states in Matthew 6:5-6, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners, but when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray.” Next to that, if school prayer was legal, which it is not, why would there have to be an amendment to the Constitution to allow it. Some people really need to get their facts straight. That’s about all I can say about this side of the argument. Now for the anti-prayer side.

THE CASE AGAINST SCHOOL PRAYER

On this section I am going to take a piece excerpted from a pamphlet by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I will list and explain 7 reasons by which prayer should not be done in school. Number 1:

“Public Schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. Children in public schools are a captive audience. Making prayer an official part of the school day is coercive and invasive. What 5, 8 or 10-year-old could view prayers recited as part of class routine as "voluntary"? Religion is private, and schools are public, so it is appropriate that the two should not mix. To introduce religion in our public schools builds walls between children who may not have been aware of religious differences before.”

This is saying that children wouldn’t understand what was going on. They would think that since most students probably would be praying that they would feel compelled to. They don’t know yet how to make their own decisions. This is a very good reason to keep school prayer out. Number 2:

“Our public schools are for all children, whether Catholic, Baptist, Quaker, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic. The schools are supported by all taxpayers, and therefore should be free of religious observances and coercion. It is the sacred duty of parents and churches to instill religious beliefs, free from government dictation. Institutionalizing prayers in public schools usurps the rights of parents. School prayer proponents mistake government neutrality toward religion as hostility. The record shows that religious beliefs have flourished in this country not in spite of but because of the constitutional separation of church and state.”

This first paragraph states that school prayer infringes on the right of the parents to properly teach their children about beliefs and religion. School prayer takes away these rights. The second paragraph states that some people think that the government is against religion, when in reality it doesn’t support or oppose it. This is a secular country with no nationally established religion. Onto number 3:

“When religion has invaded our public school system, it has singled out the lone Jewish student, the class Unitarian or agnostic, the children in the minority. Families who protest state/church violations in our public schools invariably experience persecution. It was commonplace prior to the court decisions against school prayer to put non-religious or nonorthodox children in places of detention during bible-reading or prayer recitation. The children of Supreme Court plaintiffs against religion in schools, such as Vashti McCollum, Ed Schempp and Ishmael Jaffree, were beaten up on the way to and from school, their families subjected to community harassment and death threats for speaking out in defense of a Constitutional principle. We know from history how harmful and destructive religion is in our public schools. In those school districts that do not abide by the law, school children continue to be persecuted today.”

This is very true. Children who do not join along in the prayer could be subjected to persecution, which could even lead to violence. Children do that in public schools already. It would become much more of a problem if prayer would be brought back in. Not only would the children be affected, but sometimes the families of the children and friends of them could be as well. Do we really need anymore hatred? Onto number 4:

“Individual, silent, personal prayer never has and never could be outlawed in public schools. The courts properly have declared government-fostered prayers unconstitutional - those led, required, sanctioned, scheduled or suggested by officials. It is dishonest to call any prayer ‘voluntary’ that is encouraged or required by a public official or legislature. By definition, if the government suggests that students pray, whether by penning the prayer, asking them to vote whether to pray or setting aside time to pray, it is endorsing and promoting that prayer. It is coercive for schools to schedule worship as an official part of the school day, school sports or activities, or to use prayer to formalize graduation ceremonies. Such prayers are more ‘mandatory’ than ‘voluntary.’”

It is very true that people can pray individually and silently in schools now. It would infringe on First Amendment rights to prohibit it. It’s ok for them to pray, but officials of the school cannot organize prayers. The second paragraph states that school prayer would be more mandatory than voluntary. This is true because the government would then be promoting that prayer. You can’t do prayer in schools without infringing on students’ rights. Onto number 5:

“Proponents of the so-called "voluntary" school prayer amendment are admitting that our secular Constitution prohibits organized prayers in public schools. Otherwise, why would an amendment to our U.S. Constitution be required? The nation must ask whether politically-motivated Newt Gingrich & Co. are wiser than James Madison, principal author of the Constitution, and the other founders who engineered the world's oldest and most successful constitution! The radical school prayer amendment would negate the First Amendment's guarantee against government establishment of religion. Most distressing, it would be at the expense of the civil rights of children, America's most vulnerable class. It would attack the heart of the Bill of Rights, which safeguards the rights of the individual from the tyranny of the majority.”

The first paragraph says that if school prayer is already legal, then why do they need an amendment to the Constitution to be able to do it again? The writers of the Constitution made it so that no religion would be opposed to by the government. The second paragraph says that the amendment would attack the Bill of Rights. This gives the majority unfair power. Onto number 6:

“The text of the proposed federal amendment (as of January 1995) reads: ‘Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any State to participate in prayer. Neither the United States nor any State shall compose the words of any prayer to be said in public schools.’ Since the right to ‘individual prayer’ in school already exists, the real motive is to install ‘group prayer.’ No wording in this amendment would prevent the government from selecting the prayer, or the particular version of the Bible it should be taken from. Nothing restricts prayers to ‘nondenominational’ or ‘nonsectarian’ (not that such a restriction would make it acceptable). Nothing would prevent a school from selecting the Lord's Prayer or other prayers to Jesus, and blasting it over the intercom. For that matter, noting would prevent the school from sponsoring prayers to Allah or Zoroaster. Nothing would prevent nonparticipating students from being singled out. The proposal also seeks to institutionalize group prayer in other public settings, presumably public-supported senior centers, courthouses, etc. School prayer supporters envision organized, vocal, group recitations of prayer, daily classroom displays of belief in a deity or religion, dictated by the majority. Those in the minority would be compelled to conform to a religion or ritual in which they disbelieve, to suffer the humiliation and imposition of submitting to a daily religious exercise against their will, or be singled out by orthodox classmates and teachers as ‘heretics’ or ‘sinners’ for not participating.”

This is saying how unfair school prayer would be. Students would could be insulted, degraded, humiliated, and many other bad things just because they don’t want to participate in the prayer. The amendment would force students to do rituals and conform to religions that they don’t believe in. The majority would have all the power, and the minority can’t do anything about it. This could lead to oppression. Onto number 7:

“This is a ruse proposed by extremist Christian legal groups such as the Rutherford Institute, and the American Center for Law and Justice run by televangelist Pat Robertson. Religious coercion is even worse at the hands of another student, subjecting students to peer pressure, pitting students in the majority against students in the minority, treating them as outsiders with school complicity. Imposing prayer-by-majority-vote is flagrant and insensitive abuse of school authority. Such schools should be teaching students about the purpose of the Bill of Rights, instead of teaching them to be religious bullies. Some principals or school boards even have made seniors hold open class votes on whether to pray at graduation, leading to hostility and reprisal against those students brave enough to stand up for the First Amendment. ‘The notion that a person's constitutional rights may be subject to a majority vote is itself anathema,’ wrote Judge Albert V. Bryan, Jr., in a 1993 ruling in Virginia, one of several similar district court rulings around the nation banning any prayer, whether student- or clergy-led. We cannot put liberties protected by our Bill of Rights up to a vote of school children! Should kindergartners be forced to vote about whether to pray before their milk and cookies? Under such reasoning, what would make it wrong for students to vote to segregate schools or otherwise violate the civil liberties of minorities? ‘There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter into our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed.’ - Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, March 18, 1890”

The first paragraph shows how students could be mistreated and mentions right-wing groups. It also mentions Pat Robertson, one of the strongest religious right activists in the country. The second paragraph mentions how school prayer is a misuse of school authority. It mentions instances where seniors had the choice to vote on prayer at their graduation. Students have been hostile against students standing up for First Amendment rights in these kinds of cases. The fourth paragraph states that if the school prayer amendment passes than why shouldn’t students pass other laws that violate the civil rights of minorities? A good example of how much of an affect the amendment would have. The fifth paragraph is a quote from the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. They said that religion causes many social problems, and if these were to be adopted by the government, than the freedom of the country would be destroyed. The country would die from the inside out. The schools would be a terrible place to put religion since it affects the younger and more easily influenced citizens of the country.

IN SUMMARY

In conclusion, it seems to me that there are better reasons for keeping prayer out of schools rather than putting them in. But hell, the choice is yours. Do you want your children to be subjected to this kind of unfair treatment and grow up practicing it in a bad way? Or do you want them to grow up to be the kind of people that respect the rights of others? Your decision, your vote. The citizens are the voice of America, so make a wise choice.

Questions or Comments?

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