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 nation¹s 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 student¹s 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 schools¹ 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 Court¹s decisions against school prayer, it was standard practice to put the students who didn¹t 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 students¹ 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 society¹s 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 ³sin² with the practice of school-endorsed prayer. ³Since 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.² (Geisler) The question one must ask is, ²What do these things have to do with the ban on coercive prayer?² The answer, of course, is, ³Nothing.² 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 with the intent to further the settlers¹ religion, and the fact that the established system worked well for almost two hundred years. The original intent of public schools is outdated now. During the early years of public schooling, everyone who attended school shared the same beliefs. Today, a myriad of different religious groups are represented in our nation¹s public schools, and it would be a grave injustice to cater to one, only to risk offending all those who have been excluded. Once an institution is outdated and no longer contributing to society, it must be modified or eliminated.
Some argue that the First Amendment doesn¹t actually separate state and religion, but encourages religion, and, in fact, implies nothing in terms of separation of state and religion. ³The second clause [of the first amendment] insists that the government should do nothing to discourage religion. But forbidding prayer in schools discourages religion² (Geisler) On the contrary, forbidding prayer in schools does not discourage religion, but does prevent offense and the alienation of students who have viewpoints which conflict with the established religion. Each student has the constitutional right to worship however the student wishes, even during school hours, so long as the student doesn¹t disturb classmates and prevent themselves and other students from completing their assigned work. Since the Supreme Court has specifically stated that any form of coercive prayer is a breach of the rights of the student, the solution seems to be obvious. The reason that many people who endorse coercive prayer have problems with the Supreme Court ban is not that citizens feel that their freedom of speech is under attack, but that their practice of forcing their viewpoints upon others who profess different beliefs has been outlawed. This practice itself is despicable in that, should the courts ever reverse their interpretation of the First Amendment, it would threaten the very diversity of beliefs which the United States of America has always maintained. Were Buddhist schoolchildren forced to listen to the Lord¹s Prayer every morning, the school would be undermining the children¹s parents¹ right to teach religion to their children as the parents see fit. If, during the act of coercive prayer, administrators isolated students who maintained beliefs different from those practiced by the majority from their classmates, the administration would be facilitating the opening of an emotional and social rift between the students of different religious sects. This obviously runs contrary to the purpose of public schools, whose function is not only to educate, but also to aid in social development. The First Amendment states very plainly that Congress is not allowed to make any law which involves the establishment of religion or interferes with the right of the citizens of this country to freely practice the religion of their choice. There is no question of ambiguity or vague wording in the First Amendment.
After reviewing countless essays and manifestoes in favor of coercive prayer in public schools, there has yet to be an indisputable argument based entirely on established facts. The ranks of those who are in favor of the practice seem to be mostly comprised of conservatives who see the Supreme Court¹s ban as a threat to their practice of evangelizing those of other religions in order to swell their own ranks. Even though this country is based upon the principle of majority rule, it is reassuring to see that the minority does have a chance for justice. Even though the Supreme Court has set a precedent, there will be many cases respecting coercive prayer brought before courts throughout the country for as long as this country stands. Thus the public is urged to militantly protect themselves from the act of organized school prayer. Keep coercive prayer out of our public schools forever!