Saturday, December 24, 2011

School Prayer

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It is almost eight o’clock and you are going to be late for school. You rush to your classroom and set your bags down in time for the pledge of allegiance. Now, imagine that after the pledge has been said and before the principal lists the announcements, the principal asks you to bow your head and prepare to pray. Then, he begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer, you ever so slightly raise your head to look around and observe the other students reciting the prayer along with Mr. Principal. You begin to notice that you are the only one wearing a yarmulke or the girl behind you is wearing a yashmac (a Muslim head piece that covers the face of a female while out in public); however, you see another student wearing a Christian cross around her neck and the little boy across from her is wearing a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet. It is only then that you begin to notice the vast variety of religions in your classroom. Suddenly you ask yourself “Why do I have to recite a Christian prayer when I am Jewish and she is Muslim (or vice versa)?” School prayer is a choice and should not be made mandatory for all to take part in.

The diversity of religions in our country is vast, and continues to grow. It is virtually impossible to accommodate all religious groups present in school systems. If prayer is made mandatory, it is only fair that accommodations be made to support all existing religions. Prayer inside school has been a controversial issue for over a century. During the 1th century, there were continual conflicts between Protestants and Catholics over which version of the Bible should be used in schools. During the 0th century, there were conflicts over the precise text of school prayers. This debate has been an on-going issue for many, many years.

In 178, the first of ten amendments were written to the Federal Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment reads

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

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This is a crucial part of our freedom in this country. The foundation that our forefathers built is the seams that hold our country together. If we tear at those seams, they will begin to unravel. Every individual has the right to choose what religion they take part in and when and where to exercise this freedom. United States law prohibits public schools to pray within the classroom. The courts view prayer in the classroom as one example of the government approving one religion over another. The separation of church and state principle is extended to Public Schools as an arm of the government. As interpreted by the courts, the Constitutions First Amendment requires that public school teachers, principals, and boards be religiously neutral they may not promote a particular religion to be superior to any other; they may not promote religion in general as superior to a secular approach to life; they must neither advance nor inhibit religion. In some states, students are allowed to leave the classroom and step into the hall to pray. These students run the risk of being harassed by other students who witness this action. If we allow school prayer to be exercised within in the school as a whole, then we are taking away the freedom of every student to choose which religion he or she wants to take part in. The Constitution does not forbid prayer within the school. A student can come early to class, sit quietly, and pray silently if he or she wants to pray. Students are allowed a moment of silence to meditate or pray quietly to themselves and for those students who are interested they are allowed to gather outside the classroom to pray as a group. If the school has as few as one extra-curricular student-led and student-organized group, then students have a legal right to organize a Bible or other religious club to meet outside of classroom time. There are many different ways to incorporate prayer into one’s school day without involving the school as a whole. Not every student will want to take part in prayer because of different reasons, whether if the reason is that the student is not praying a prayer that is incorporated into their religion or simply because they choose not to pray.

Students have the opportunity to attend one of the over 50,000 places of worship in the United States. School is a place for education; it is a center for learning. If a student wants to pray on a daily basis within a school then parochial schools are the answer. If the issue is money, many of these schools offer scholarships. It is not the school’s place to deprive students of valuable education time by taking time out of the day to pray.

It is time to take action and protect the freedoms that our government has given us. The school is not a place to reinforce someone’s religious beliefs. That is the job for a place of worship. The United States is in dire need of increasing the educational ability of its students. Prayer should be the last thing on their minds. We need to look at the bigger picture as Americans. Freedom is our motto. Why should we take a freedom that we have fought so hard for away by enforcing school prayer? Our main concern, as adults and caregivers to the children of our future, is that we protect them from any injustice that might take away their freedoms.

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