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POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS
ABOUT PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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Sponsored link.

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Quotations:

bullet"School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. U.S. Supreme Court decision, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 2000-JUN-19. 1
bullet"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets that they may be seen of men.  Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly..." Matthew 6:5-6, a little quoted passage from the Bible, King James Version.

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Misconceptions about public school prayer:

Many Christians have written essays, prayers or poems about school prayer. They frequently contain assumptions about prayer in the public schools which conflict with actual legislation. It is true that students in some school districts have been forbidden to carry their Bible to school, or to wear a religious T-shirt to class. However, these local regulations are made by school officials in violation of the U.S. Constitution and of federal and state laws. Usually, a brief discussion between a lawyer specializing in civil rights matters and school officials quickly clears up the conflict. 

A typical poem is shown below. One source identifies this "New School Prayer" as having been written by a teenager in Bagdad, AZ -- a small mining community, with a population of about 660. 2 However, we have seen almost identical prayers attributed to individuals in other areas of the U.S.

"THE NEW SCHOOL PRAYER"

What the laws say:

Now I sit me down at school,
Where praying is against the rule
.
Praying in school is not against the law. In fact, the U.S. Constitution guarantees students the right to pray in public schools; it is a protected form of free speech.  A student can pray on the school bus, in the corridors, in the cafeteria, in their student-run Bible club, at the flagpole, sports stadium, and elsewhere on school grounds. They can even pray silently before and after class in the classroom. They are not allowed to pray solely Christian prayers as an organized part of the school schedule. However, they may be able to hear or read prayers from a variety of religious traditions and inspiring statements from secular sources. Prayers cannot solely be from a single religious faith group.
For this great nation under God,
Finds mention of Him very odd.
This is also untrue. On average, Americans are quite religious. Church attendance is higher than in any other industrialized nation. Attendance in the US is twice that of Canada and four times that of many European countries. However, in order to preserve the separation of church and state, there are a few restrictions on prayer in government facilities -- including public schools.
If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights.
Bible passages can be recited in class during the study of comparative religions. But they would have to be balanced by passages from other religions and statements from ethical movements.
And anytime my head I bow
Becomes a  Federal matter now
As noted above, individual students are quite free to pray throughout their public school building and throughout their school day.
Our hair can be purple, orange, or green,
That's  no offense; it's a freedom scene.
The law is specific, the law is precise.
Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.
As noted above, students are free to pray almost anywhere in school.
For praying in a public  hall
Might offend someone with no faith at all
.
It is true that, according to the Golden Rule,  Christians should not perform acts which offend other people. Also, Matthew 6:6 does discourage Christians from engaging in public prayer. But the main reason for restriction on school prayer is the principle of separation of church and state.
In silence alone we must meditate. Some states have passed laws requiring or allowing a moment of silence before class. But students are free to engage in prayer, meditation, or any other thought process, as long as they are silent.
God's name is prohibited by the state. It is not. One example is the national motto: "In God We Trust."
We're allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
They've outlawed guns
,...
Students are allowed wide latitude in dress and jewelry, including religious clothing and accessories. It is true that schools do prohibit guns from the campus, for security reasons.
...but FIRST the Bible.
To quote the Good book makes  me liable.
The Bible is not outlawed. The U.S. Constitution protects students' freedom of speech. They can quote freely from the Bible in their essays and projects. 

The teacher can read passages from the Bible can even be read in the classroom, as part of a comparative religion class. But they have to be balanced with passages from the texts of other religions and from secular movements.

We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
And the 'unwed  daddy,' our Senior King.
It's "inappropriate" to teach right from wrong,
We're taught that such "judgments" do not belong.
In most schools, students have the right to democratically elect their Senior Queen & King. 

Ethics and morality can be taught in school. But they cannot be taught from the perspective of a single branch of a single religion. The full range of beliefs of right and wrong need to be included. (See Note 1)

We can get our  condoms and birth controls, Some schools do have condom dispensers and/or health clinics. These have been shown to be a very effective way of reducing unwanted pregnancy and STD transmission.
Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles. True. Study of Witchcraft (a.k.a. Wicca) would be valid in a comparative religion course. So would totem poles, which are part of Native American spirituality. Vampire legends could form a part of history or sociology courses.
But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
No word of God must reach this  crowd.
This is wrong. The Ten Commandments can be taught; they can even be posted on the walls of public schools. However, they must not appear by themselves. Other religious rules of behavior and secular laws must accompany the Ten Commandments to give a balanced cultural display.
It's scary here I must confess,
When chaos reigns the  school's a mess.
So, Lord, this silent plea I make:
Should I be shot; My  soul please take!
Amen
It is important to realize that schools are relatively safe places. An average of about two dozen students have been shot in U.S. schools annually in recent years. This compares with thousands shot outside of school buildings each year. 

Major factors involved in past in-school shootings have been: 

bulletvery serious mental illness on the part of the perpetrator(s), or
bulletrevenge for years of hate, marginalization and rejection of the perpetrators by the school's social elite.

If prayers from a single religion were re-introduced into public classrooms, they would provide one more criteria by which the majority could discriminate against and marginalize minorities. The end result would probably be more school violence, not less.

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Note 1: Concerning the teaching of ethics and morals:

This is sometimes a delicate matter, prone to controversy:

bulletThere are many moral and ethical topics about which a social consensus exists: e.g. abolition of slavery, racism, universal suffrage. These are taught freely in public schools with little objection. 
bulletThere are some topics about which a near consensus exists, but on which vocal minorities hold divergent views. For example:
bulletOver 99% of earth and biological scientists believe that the Theory of Evolution is accurate. Conservative Christians generally believe in a competing belief: Creation Science. Many educators feel that only Evolution should be taught in science class, because Creation Science is not really a science. But others argue that creation science can appropriately be taught in a comparative religion class. 
bulletBirth control is generally accepted in society, and is practiced by most sexually active, fertile couples who are married or who live together. Many educators feel that information on birth control is an important topic to teach; others feel that it is inappropriate to educate teens on this matter. It is sometimes difficult for teachers to reach a compromise on these topics.
bulletThere are some legal topics about which no social consensus exists at all: access to abortion, spanking, physician assisted suicide, pre-marital sex, etc. Some argue that no education is complete unless a student examines all sides of these issues. Most educators believe that no single position on these topics should be taught as "right or wrong"

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Related essays on this website:

bulletSchool prayer: introductory essay
bulletRecent developments
bulletPraying in public schools -- legally
bulletMoment of silence in public schools
bulletPosition of U.S. political parties on school prayer
bulletTeaching about religion and the Bible
bulletPrayers at graduation ceremonies
bulletPrayers at school sports events
bulletRenting school facilities to community groups
bulletStudents' religious jewelry and clothing
bulletEqual Access Act regarding student clubs
bulletWhat the Bible says about public prayer
bulletSeparation of church and state issues

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References:

  1. The text of the Supreme Court's decision in Santa Fe Independent School Dst. v. Doe is at:  http://supct.law.cornell.edu/
  2. "Welcome to 'Key to the City's' page for Bagdad..." at: http://www.pe.net/ 

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Home page > Christianity > Christian history > Prayer > Schools > here

 

or: Home page > Law menu > Schools > here

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Copyright © 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Created 2001-FEB-14
Last updated 2006-FEB-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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