Prevent Coercive Prayer in Public Schools


The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This amendment, commonly called the
Establishment Clause, forms the foundation of the right of every American to
practice their chosen religion freely and without the interference of the
government. In 1947, the Supreme Court issued a statement emphasizing the
separation of school and state based on this amendment. Students are entitled
to the right to express their religious beliefs in school, but it is
unconstitutional for the administration to endorse or discriminate against any
religion. Due to this interpretation, the practice of coercive prayer is
unconstitutional, and should be kept forever separated from this nation\'s
schools.
The purpose of public schools is to educate, not indoctrinate.
Schoolchildren are a captive audience. How could a second-, fourth-, or even
sixth-grader view the routine recital of prayers during the school day as a
voluntary action? This invasive practice would create unnecessary divisions
among children by making them unduly aware of their religious differences.
Public schools are for everyone, whether they are Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, or
Taoist. The practice of organized prayer in schools invades the student\'s right
to an education free of the discrimination which organized prayer would
encourage.
Many people mistake the religious indifference of public schools for
hostility. Public schools must to be very careful to neither discriminate for
nor against any single religion, and people often incorrectly perceive the
schools\' attitudes toward religion. The non-discrimination requirement may seem
wrong to many, but when religion has a home in public schools, it singles out
the students who disagree with the theology being taught. Prior to the Supreme
Court\'s decisions against school prayer, it was standard practice to put the
students who didn\'t agree with the theology being taught in places of detention
during Bible readings and prayers.
One argument in favor of the practice of school-organized prayer draws
its basis from the belief that students must be taught morals in school, and
that morals cannot be taught in the proper manner without the use of religion.
Proponents of this viewpoint believe that an ethical code cannot exist without
some 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 to
the faithful and mete out punishments to the transgressors.
There are several obvious fallacies in this argument. The first is the
assumption that morals must be taught in public schools. Many people hold the
belief that it is the duty of the students\' parents, and not the responsibility
of the school system, to teach the students matters of ethics. Another mistake
is 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 is
acceptable to this society. If one does not agree to follow the morals of the
rest of the citizens of the U. S., one will quickly be incarcerated. The
American people are already under the power of an entity which wields immense
power and has the capacity to punish those who do not conform to society\'s
ideals: the federal government.
Often, debaters in favor of coercive prayer in school feel themselves
compelled to quote statistics and percentages, a practice which is not usually
useful to the debate in general because there is rarely any proof to link the
rampant rise of "sin" with the practice of school-endorsed prayer. "Since the
court outlawed prayerŠdivorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, and teen
suicide went up 300%Š abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlation
between 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 with
the ban on coercive prayer?" The answer, of course, is, "Nothing." Anyone who
is convinced that there is a cause and effect relationship between the ban on
faculty endorsed prayer in school and an increase of activities considered by
many to be immoral must either have far greater insight than the foremost
rational thinkers of our time, or must consider the issue of whether or not
coercive prayer is being utilized in school as a matter of great personal
interest. The connection between the above practices and the ban of organized
prayer is dubious at best.
A third line of reasoning involves the fact that public schools in the
United States were originally organized by early settlers to teach children to
read and write