Lately, many Christians have come to feel they are being persecuted and denied their religious rights, specifically the right to pray in public schools. They believe there is a direct correlation between not allowing prayer in public schools and the problems that plague America. Maybe they are right about the impact of prayer on America’s issues, but they are misinformed to believe our nation’s problems are due to the lack of prayer in public schools. The truth is that school children have always been allowed to pray in public schools, but their prayers cannot be coerced, guided or influenced by public school employees. Restrictions on religious expression in schools apply to the adults, not the children and therein lies the rub.
It is hard to argue against prayer as an American right to religious expression for anyone. The fact that so many people in this nation’s 239 year history have fled and continue to flee to America to escape persecution for their religious beliefs, validates that religious expression lies at the core of America. Therefore, given this nation’s founding principles of equality and religious freedom, there is no logical reason not to allow prayer in public schools for everyone. To deny free and unobstructed prayer in public schools to anyone is to dishonor America’s heritage as a haven free from religious persecution.
The school prayer issue has become a derisive sore spot for many people as well as for their communities. The issue has become a symbol of the growing perception of the downward spiral of our country; it has become another divisive wedge that threatens to rip the nation apart. But, in a nation that embraces diversity and equality, why do we allow such a sore spot to fester and tear us apart? What could be more unifying than simply permitting unrestricted prayer in public schools for everyone, adults and students alike? Isn’t that what everyone wants?
America is one of the few places in the world where people can worship as they choose without fear of religious persecution or physical retribution for their beliefs. Religious freedom is as much American as apple pie. So is prayer in school. Consequently, prayer in school should not be debatable; prayer is a fundamental right of all American citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. In America, religious expression is an open invitation to everyone regardless of where they work, what tongue they speak or what religion they embrace. Therefore, a logical solution to the prayer in public schools issue is to open prayer to everyone.
Why should there be any restrictions on prayer in public schools? Prayer does not need to be restricted; all that is needed is a plan to make it fair and accessible to everyone. However, if we are to allow unrestricted prayer in public schools and make prayer available to everyone, we must exercise caution and have a plan that honors the religious diversity of the communities in which schools exist. The plan must be free of prejudice, bias and disenfranchisement of anyone’s religious beliefs or rights. For example, the chart below provides a logical diversified plan for prayer in public schools that provides fairness and accessibility to all.
Weekly School Prayer Schedule:
|Day||The following religions will lead school prayer on the day assigned:||Open School with Prayer over the Intercom||Start Each Class with Prayer||Prayer at Lunch||Prayer at School Activities|
|Friday||Other Religions||Unitarian Universalist||Wiccan/Pagan/Druid||New Age||Scientology|
This chart illustrates what prayer in public schools might look like without the restrictions that are currently in place in our public schools. Is this what Americans want? Is this what Christians want? Would such a plan work? Probably not. When it comes to their religion, most people struggle to see beyond their own nose. Most people, including Christians, would balk at any plan or situation that held their children as a captive audience to philosophies and beliefs they do not support, and that is exactly why prayer exists as it does in today’s public schools. Current restrictions on prayer in public schools have nothing to do with a conspiracy to take God and prayer from schools. The religious limitations placed on adults in public schools are a safeguard to protect children from adult religious influences that may be in conflict with the religious teachings and values taught in the home and church. For parents, for Christians, to insist prayer be allowed in schools without restrictions is dangerous to the very values the Christian community or any other religious community wishes to instill in their children.
It is difficult for many Christians to understand that the right to pray in public schools does not only extend to Christians. Not only have Christians fought and died for freedom and religious rights in America, but many non-Christian families have sacrificed for this nation as well. They have just as much right to pray and shout their religious convictions from the school rooftop as Christians. So, doesn’t it stand to reason that rather than turn public schools into a religious battleground or marketplace for the souls of a captive audience, our children, that we as a society impose some restrictions on the role of religion in public schools?
What is so wrong with prayer being in the hands of the students as it is now? No law in America has ever silenced student initiated or student led prayer in public schools. Public school children are free to pray as they wish, talk to their peers about their God, and even hold hands during lunch and pray as a group. They have never been denied their right to personal religious expression through prayer or even witnessing to other students. The law only prevents adults from initiating and leading religious expression in public schools. The only limitation on prayer in public schools is undue influence by an adult.
I am a Christian, and I for one do not want any adult in school or otherwise influencing the religious beliefs of my grandchildren other than their mama and daddy and their church. As Christians, we should teach our children how to pray at home and in church, so that when they get to the school house they are comfortable praying if and when they choose without adult coercion, influence or guidance. As a former high school principal, one of the most powerful testaments to faith I ever witnessed was students holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer in the school cafeteria. They didn’t need an adult to call them together to pray. They didn’t need an adult to say, “Bow your heads, let’s pray.” They were led by their faith, a faith that was instilled in them at home and in church, and that is how it should be.
©Jack Linton, August 29, 2015