A new round of conversation about prayer in school seems to be popping up on the internet a lot lately. I don’t comment very often on matters of religion and politics, but I will this time.
There are two major factions on this issue: those who believe in strict separation of church and state, therefore absolutely no prayer or religious reference in public schools; and those who believe we are a Christian nation and therefore should allow and encourage prayer in school, particularly Christ-based prayer.
I think both factions are right and both are wrong.
There is no state religion here, but the United States of America was founded on Christian principles and religion has always played a role in our country’s history. To ignore that is to ignore our history. But religious tolerance and acceptance of a variety of beliefs has also always been part of our country. Many of our original states were formed as havens for victims of religious persecution in other countries. We have the guaranteed right to believe what we want to believe and pray or not pray based on our own choice.
I think prayer in school should be accepted but not forced. Whose prayer? Everyone’s. If praying aloud is allowed and praying by students is led by teachers, many faiths should be represented and acknowledged, not just one … Christian, Jewish, Muslin … even Atheism. Some people do not believe in God and they have that right. An Atheist ‘prayer’ can be a moment of silence acknowledging non belief.
And students in a school setting in which prayer happens should be given the option to not participate, without ridicule from teachers or other students. In other words, prayer of any kind and all kinds should not be forced on them. They can sit out in the hall during prayers.
Exposing students to a wide variety of faith examples, accompanied by appropriate context, is a good educational experience in my opinion. Forcing only one example or banning it entirely represents extremes that miss the whole point. Amen.