The School Prayer Debate William Scanlon PHI200 Mind and Machine Instructor Jon Stern July 20, 2011 One of the most hotly debated topics in the last fifty years is whether or not prayer in public schools should be allowed; a simple question which gives rise to many complicated and emotional answers. The most basic dispute is the separation of church and state. As reiterated in a 1962 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Eagel v. Vitale, the court ruled that public schools were not empowered to condone school prayer and in fact that school prayer was unconstitutional(Dierenfield,2007).
The case was brought about by families of public school students who complained that the voluntary prayer, “Almighty God,” was a contradiction to their beliefs. The prayer went simply, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teacher, and our country. Amen. ”(Murray,2010) The complaint argued that beginning the school day with this prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. ” The constitutionality of the prayer had been upheld the N.
Y. State Appeasl (Smith,1987). Not ironically perhaps because the prayer had been written and approved by the N. Y. Board of Regents. It ruled the opinion of the Supreme Court was that a government authorized prayer could not be made mandatory to be recited in a public school. The Court further went on to reinstate how important the Separation of Church and State is. They went on to explain that prayer is a religious activity and thus violated the establishment clause. Hence the prayer written by a government agency to encourage religious belief was not permissible according to the Constitution.
Many lawsuits on the same subject ensued. In subsequent cases though, the Supreme Court has been consistent in its rulings. It has prohibited readings from the Bible, forbidden the Lord’s Prayer, and has even ruled that prayers at public school sporting events and graduations were unconstitutional (Ravitch 2001). The debate rages on with each case and ruling. A situation which may never be settled or compromised is Religion and belief in a God is one of the most emotional issues man has debated, fought about, and even died for over the centuries,
The debate on school prayer will rage on and on and ultimately always come to a stalemate. This is partly due to the fact that the question of one’s own personal belief in God is at the core of the issue. Those in favor of prayer in school will say that praying in school will teach Religious tolerance(Majors,Cheri 2010). That it will instill and inspire children to question and seek answers about God and different Religions and to develop their own beliefs. Very often the argument For Prayer is that putting prayer back in school will reverse what is believed to be a moral decline in the country.
Many believe that since school prayer has been banned, crime has increased, family values have deteriorated, and some zealots even predict that it is the forerunner to Armageddon, as America has lost its soul. Some believe that banning prayer actually deprives religious freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution. By prohibiting prayer it in turn promotes Non-Religion. That is to say without prayer in school it discourages a child from believing in any religion and gives a sense that praying at all is bad.
On the other side, those against prayer in school feel that if it were allowed, religion would be forced upon students. They feel that school is there strictly for education and religion should not be part of it. Prayer promots emotional feelings and can give rise to religious discrimination of these opposing beliefs. Some go as far to say that prayer in school wastes time better spent focused on studies. Prayers are part of values learned at home and as such should remain there. Those against prayer will also say that schools allow enough free time for any religious observance.
As the case against prayer in public school continues to be upheld by the courts, I have to admit that the side against prayer has the more logical argument. The Constitution guarantees a citizen the right to private prayer, but it does not force others to listen if they chose not to. I agree with the statement, “State supported prayer is not ‘Free Exercise’ its ‘Forced Religion. ’”(Dierenfield,2007) And that is why it is prohibited. Another fact I take credence in is that according to the U. S. Census church membership remained constant since 1960, before prayer in public school was banned.
True morals in this country have declined since the Supreme Courts originally ruled, but I owe that more to the decline of Family Values. Due in part to changed in family dynamics as there are more and more single parents, as well as both parents being forced to work. The question of school prayer in public schools is indeed a philosophical one. I truly believe this debate will be never-ending. Just as people debate the existence of a God; there will always be more questions than answers to the issue. Exactly how prayer in school ultimately affects students is subject to interpretation.
The matter cannot be judged or determined as a whole because young individual minds are a stake here. In my opinion I believe it is all the more important that individual rights and free thinking must be the main objective in teaching our children. We must continue to teach, not preach religion to young minds. Expose them to all the different cultures and religious beliefs there are. Show them that be it Christianity, Judaism, Muslim or any other religion, all promote goodwill and love. All are there for them to embrace and choose if they so desire.
References Dierenfield, Brue J. The Battle Over School Prayer (2007) Kansas City, KS University of Kansas Press Murray, Andrew With Christ in School Prayer (2010) readaclassic. com Majors, Cheri A Case for Prayer in Schools (2010) Creare Space, NY, NY Ravitch, Frank S. School Prayer and Discrimination (2001) Simon & Schuster, New York, NY Smith, Rodney K. Public Prayer and the Constitution (1987) Schorarly Resources, New York, NY Appeals Court Hears AU’s Prayer Case Church and State (1999) Col 52 Issue 1 Page 13