Payer in School
Over the years, the debate whether to allow prayers in schools has continued to elicit various views within the population. Some people argue on the basis that, school and religion are two separate things. Just like state keeps off religion, public schools should not engage in religious issues, particularly prayers. On the other hand proponents of this interesting debate argue that school and prayer as part of routine life in a school environment. From this disparity in opinions, various law suits have been filed through history to date, in an attempt to determine whether certain religious actions in schools are constitutional or not. The First Amendment of the United States constitution is widely referenced when it comes to such cases. This report focuses on prayer in school, exploring various court cases in favor and in opposition of prayers. Ultimately, in my opinion, I believe that prayers should be allowed in schools.
Contention of Religious Activities in School
Half a century ago, the Supreme Court in its landmark ruling struck down school sponsored prayer. This decision have ever since been challenged several times as some Americans saw it as an attempt by a portion of the national courts and civil liberty advocates to isolate religious sentiment and God from public schools. Americans of this opinion perceive this decision as a violation of the First Amendment. The law gives everyone the right to free exercise of religion (Chapman, 2010).
Those who uphold the Court`s decision on the other hand including civil libertarians argue that conservative Christians are out to impose their values on students across all religious beliefs. Federal courts and civil libertarians have persistently cited the First Amendment as prohibiting the establishment of religion to ban state sponsorship of prayer among other religious activities in public schools.
In various court cases concerning religious activities in school, such as teaching religion, praying in school, prayer during graduation speech, etc. the decisions made often stress that the law forbid public schools from indoctrinating children in religion. Nevertheless it has never been clear on how to establish exactly what entails indoctrination or sponsorship of school for religious activities. For example, if a school foot baseball player decides to in a snag, is the school really responsible for these religious expressions? In addition, other constitutional guarantees continue to cause more controversy on issue of prayer in school and other religious activities in school. The First Amendment besides giving the right to free religion exercise also offers protection to freedom of speech and freedom of association (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007). These provisions have been used by religious groups to support religious speech and in attempts to obtain student religious clubs sponsorship and resources.
Prayer in School and Major Court Cases Decisions
Prayer in school is the most enduring and contentious issue regarding school sponsored religious activities. In a 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court upheld that the recital of school sponsored prayer in public school is prohibited under the Establishment Clause. Engel had composed a nonsectarian prayer intended to be used in public schools in New York. In the court`s decision to ban the prayer, emphasis was placed on the fact that it was wrong for the government to design and sponsor a religious doing. In 1963, just a year after the court decision on Engel v. Vitale, the same principle was extended to a program of daily Bible reading in school inn Abington School District v. Schempp. The court confidently ruled that the constitution prohibits school sponsorship of religious activities (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007). This decision became the reference of the continuing constitutional stand that all government action must have purposes that are mainly non-secular. By stressing that religious activities be separated from the official curriculum, the Supreme Court was reassuring parents and guardians that, public schools would be completely secular, hence not in any way compete with parents/guardians in the religious upbringing of their children (Chapman, 2010). The Engel and Schempp cases rubberstamped the constitutional standard for banning school sponsored religious exercises, a view that has continued to be upheld by the courts to date. In 1985 for example in Wallace v. Jaffree, the court reverted an Alabama law that required all public schools in the region to set aside a moment daily for meditation or silent prayer (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007).
Over the years, school-sponsored prayer has not been embraced either. In 1992`s Lee v. Weisman, the court invalidated a school-initiated prayer performed by an invited priest at a public school inauguration in Providence R.I. The court`s decision was based on the argument that grandaunts were being forced to engage in a religious event. The case successfully outlawed an activity that was routine in several communities throughout the United States hence fueling the conventional critique that the Supreme Court was uncongenial to expression of one`s faith in public. In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), the court maintained the constitution does not allow school sponsored student rehearsed prayer at high school games (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007).
In a synopsis of legal opinion provided by jointly by Jewish Congress in a report concerning key religion related issues bothering schools in the United States, the following were established regarding prayer in school:
Prayer in a classroom either by teachers or students is against the Constitution according to the Supreme Court. Moment of silent prayer or meditation still remains vague with some states allowing meditation while others regard it as unconstitutional (Barton, 2011). Regarding prayer at school-sponsored athletic activities, the court maintains it is unconstitutional despite it being offered by an independent ministerial association. Although team prayers has not been decided in a court case yet, attorney generals of three states maintain it is unconstitutional for players or coaches of school teams to pray before, during or after a match. In addition, as evidenced in a number of court cases, prayers at graduation has been banned in several states.
Cases in Favor of Prayer in School
There have not been significant court decisions supporting prayer in school or challenging the ban of prayer in school. Nevertheless Murray v. Curlett (1963), court processes at some point favored prayer in school. In 1963, Madalyn Murray O`Hair an atheist associated with the American Communist Party, challenged the Baltimore school board in court for permitting prayer in school. Judge J. Gilbert Pendergast of the local court dismissed the plead arguing that, it was evidently obvious that the petitioner`s main objective was to drive away every element of religion in public school system (Barton, 2011). When he took the case to the Court of Appeal of Maryland, the court argued that, both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments were not intended to stifle all rapport between state and religion (Murray, 1995). However, the petitioner won, just like in all most cases challenging prayer in school when he took the case to the U.S Supreme Court. In his statement at the Supreme Court, Leonard Kerpelman argued that, prayer in public schools had been tolerated for a very long time that it had become a routine activity and that anything that is unlawful does not become lawful by being a routine. In addition, he argued that the law had erected a wall of separation between the state and the church.
Interestingly the national Council of Churches (NCC) and various Jewish organizations supported Madalyn O`Hair case. Interestingly, no Christian organization filed a brief supporting prayer in school, making the case sail through the court virtually uncontested. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in support of school prayer and Bible reading prohibition in public schools. However, As Justice Tom Clark argued during this ruling, that it has been for a long time maintained that the state remain neutral on religious freedom, and while protecting all religions must therefore favor none and vilify none. It is important to note that, atheist has been recognized by the state as a religion, as such, the court ruling in this particular case involving an atheist, favored secular atheism, hence failed to maintain neutrality as suggested by Justice Tom Clark (Murray, 1995).
Importance of Allowing Pray in School
The debate concerning whether to permit prayer in school or not is obviously an issue that will continue to elicit varying views for a long time. There are various benefits that are associated with allowing prayer in school, which is the reason why the Supreme Court should lift the ban on prayer in public schools.
First, banning prayer makes learning in schools appear baseless. Human life is founded on moral principles, values and ethics that each person holds dear and sacred. Regardless of the religion under which a child has been brought up, there is need for them to see religious being stressed in their routine lives, especially in a place like school where they spend considerable time. This will enable children grow in the desired way, encourage important values in life including integrity and respect for others. If children grow with religious knowledge emphasized even in school, they tend to perceive meaning in life. I believe prayer in school represents the holistic nature of a person. Besides training the minds of a child academically, schools should strive to nurture the child`s soul and enhance the values that the child has learnt from his parents or the community.
School prayer also has various benefits to the society. Public school system has terribly degenerated in the past few years. This is evident in the persistent occurrences of violence among school children, particularly shootings in schools (All About History, 2013). From the Columbine High Shooting incidence to the recent Newtonian elementary school shooting, it is clear that the morals of our children are continuing to worsen. In addition, drug abuse, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy and HIV transmission are issues that have continued to ruin young children`s lives over the years. Efforts to address these issues have not been easy, despite the government and non-governmental organization`s relentless effort to deal with them. The role of prayer in school is indubitable. When children are guided and reminded of the godly power and the need to remain pure and focused on the future, they are able to abstain from illicit behavior, hence are safe. One obvious thing in our society is that, most religions if not all emphasize on positive values including purity, sobriety, respect, integrity to mention but a few. Prayer help in keeping children in check with these values hence children grow with discipline and are safe. The society becomes safer when these children grow with virtues.
According to (Chapman, 2010), the principle aim of public education is to shape children to become responsible citizens. This entails more than just memorization of ideas. As evidenced in a survey carried out in 2006 by the Pew Research Center, majority two in every three Americans (about 69 percent) are in support for prayer in school, arguing that liberals have taken the idea too far in their attempt to keep religion out of public schools (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007). This majority of the population is confident that, the open acknowledgement of existence of God is beneficial in some way. Morals can only be built on the principle that a moral source exists, that is, God. When acknowledgement of the existence of God is removed, then there is no absolute principle of morals, and a liberated society drift to rebellion. For example, since the banning of prayer in public school 50 years ago, violent crime has increased six fold, divorce rate has tripled, teenage suicide has tripled, births to single mothers have increased five times and SAT scores have declined 80 points (No Author, n.d). Even though the banning of prayer may not be the only reason for the degeneration, it is one of the symptoms of spiritual decline in the American society.
Consequently, prayer in school is important in setting an essential standard. It opens the child`s mind to the fact that, they are more than just a biological animal that is superior to other animals. Prayer is an exercise which asserts that life is more than protecting the environment or creating wealth. The passion with which prayer in school is objected is not because ACLU is attempting to safeguard atheist from being indoctrinated by religion, but is objected because it represents the contrast to the beliefs of individuals who set policy for most of the public school system.
Most people in opposition of prayer in school present different arguments to justify their case. Whereas their opinions may be logical, they usually overlook the child`s life after school. One of the popular arguments is that public schools are meant to academic instruction and not for religious performance or evangelism. This belief is obviously unsound because prayer is confined and does not tend to lure or dissuade non-followers. Similarly, some argue that school prayer use considerable time meant for learning. Again, this is not true because, in school, there are several extra-curricular activities that are not academic oriented and utilize even more time as compared to just a few seconds spent on prayer.
Prayer in school remains a hot debate 50 years after the landmark court Supreme Court ruling in 1962 that led to the ban of prayer in public school. Several other cases challenging the validity of prayer in school including classroom prayer, prayer during games, graduation prayer, among other religious activities in public schools followed suit. Unfortunately, the cases overwhelmingly ruled in favor of banning prayer in public school. Though no rulings have been supportive to prayer in school, most Americans believe that the idea of banning prayer in school is overrated. The fact that America was founded on religion as stated in the declaration of independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights…” (No Author, Para.1) is an embarrassment to the judicial system to ban prayer in school. By banning prayer in school, the justice system is sending a hypothetical message to children and all citizens. In addition, banning prayer in public school has had more damage than good to the once glorious American society. The decline in morals has destroyed this reputation, as our kids continue to rebel and grow into anarchy. There is need to bring back sanity to the society, uphold the constitution, particularly the First Amendment which gives the right to religion. Stakeholders in this issue must come together and come into terms on the way forward regarding settling this issue once and for all. The benefits of prayer in public school are obvious. Prayer has never caused any harm, in fact the society and the country as a whole stands to reap by allowing prayer in public school.
All About History (2013). Pros and Cons of Prayer in School. Retrieved http://www.allabouthistory.org/pros-and-cons-of-prayer-in-school-faq.htm (Accessed 28/11/13).
Barton, D. (2011). Original intent: the courts, the Constitution & religion. Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press.
Chapman, R. (2010). Culture wars an encyclopedia of issues, viewpoints, and voices. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.
Murray, J.W. (1995). Let Us Pray, A Plea for Prayer in Our Schools. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc.
No Author (No Date). 10 reasons for school prayer. Retrieved http://www.restore-christian-america.org/reasons.html (Accessed 28/11/13).
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2007). Religion in the public schools. Retrieved http://www.pewforum.org/files/2007/05/religion-public-schools.pdf (Accessed 27/11/13).