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Pros and Cons of Prayer in School an Ongoing Debate

Pros and Cons of Prayer in School an Ongoing Debate
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By    |   Sunday, 16 November 2014 02:41 PM

The pros and cons of prayer in school are regularly debated and referred to in the media and internet community, but the U.S. courts have ruled consistently against state-sponsored school prayer.

Those rulings don’t mean that children — and teachers, for that matter — can’t pray during the school day. “The U.S. Supreme Court has been vigilant in forbidding public schools and other agencies of the government to interfere with Americans' constitutional right to follow their own consciences when it comes to religion,” says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

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The key to the rulings, the AU said, is understanding that state-sponsored religious worship isn’t allowed in public schools, which 90 percent of children in the country attend. It comes from a 1962 Supreme Court decision, in Engel v. Vitale, that government officials could not compose a prayer for students to say. AU said it “did not rule that students are forbidden to pray on their own.”

“This principle ensures that America's public schools are welcoming to all children and leaves decisions about religion where they belong, with the family,” the organization’s website said.

AU pointed out that numerous religious organizations support banning state-sponsored prayer in schools, and lists those on its website.

Still, many religious organizations continue to fight for prayer in schools; Restore Christian America lists on its website 10 reasons prayer should return to the public school setting.

"Since the court outlawed prayer, the nation has been in steady moral decline. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett revealed in his cultural indexes that between 1960 and 1990 there was a steady moral decline,” the organization’s list said. “During this period divorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, teen suicide increased 300%, child abuse reached an all-time high, violent crime went up 500% and abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlation between the expulsion of prayer from our schools and the decline in morality."

Many such online memes pop up with that theme, such as one that is written as a letter: “Dear God, Why do you allow so much violence in our schools. Signed, a concerned student. Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in schools. God.”

Jo Beth Jimerson, an educator and professor at Texas Christian University, wrote about this meme on her website when someone shared it on Facebook. “In response to ‘This needs to be reposted over and over’ I say, ‘Really, it does not. This year we’ve had shootings in a temple, a mall, and a theater. Was God ‘banned’ there? Plus, God has not been banned in schools. Employees can’t tell kids where or how to pray. Kids can pray. They can have Bible or other religious clubs. They can’t disrupt class with it (like by choosing to have Bible study in the middle of Math, which is TOTALLY when I’d have chosen to pray, given the option). But kids and adults can pray in schools.’”

VOTE NOW: Do You Support Prayer in Public Schools?

The school shootings that have occurred in the last decade, in particular, seem to bring a resurgence of interest in bringing prayer back to schools. In Charisma News, Jennifer LaClaire wrote in 2012 after the Newtown shooting, “The decision to remove prayer from public schools in 1962 was unpopular then and it’s unpopular now — yet it remains in effect. It’s time to get down on our knees and pray for the right for a moment of prayer in public schools again. It’s probable that many students would tune out during the daily prayer. It’s likely that there would be debates over whether it should be a Hindu, Muslim or Christian prayer. It’s almost certain that the ACLU and atheist activists would put up a fight.”

The Liberty Institute actively fights school prayer issues, going to court for defendants when their religious rights are violated in public schools. For instance, when 5-year-old Gabriella Perez bowed her head at lunch to pray and was told it was "wrong to pray," the institute held a press conference with Perez’s family and challenged school officials to determine what happened.

After investigating the issue, the district apologized to the family and said it would retrain employees about First Amendment rights, the Liberty Institute said.

The organization also maintains a “Student Bill of Rights” that specifies what students can and can’t do in school with regard to religion.

The pros and cons of prayer in school are debated every day online, whether it be with memes such as the one Jimerson wrote about or on Facebook with sites like “Keep Prayer at Soddy Daisy High School,” which has 7,800 followers.

In an April 2014 story, NPR discussed that several states are taking on the challenge of school prayer: “Many people of faith, notably conservative Christians, believe their right to religious expression has been under threat for decades, at least since the Supreme Court in 1962 banned school-sponsored prayer.”

A Tennessee bill passed this year called the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which allows students to state their religious viewpoints in schools. Similar bills passed in other states, including Texas and South Carolina.

The bills reflect what the Supreme Court has decided in regard to religion in schools, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ferrell Haile, told NPR, “The school districts have been fearful — at least some districts have been very fearful — of what is the line of what we can do and what we cannot do. We feel like this is putting it more clearly into law, that they don't feel like whatever they do they're going to face lawsuits from one side or the other."

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The pros and cons of prayer in school are regularly debated and referred to in the media and internet community, but the U.S. courts have ruled consistently against state-sponsored school prayer.
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Sunday, 16 November 2014 02:41 PM
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