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The First Amendment’s Influence on Prayer in Public Schools

What is it about public schools that causes many Americans to work toward demolishing them–figuratively and literally?  Is it that most buildings are literally falling apart or is it the quality of education? It could be both, but more seriously than those…prayer is not allowed.  Well, prayer is allowed–just not organized prayer.  The point is that anyone can pray at any time in this country.  You remember praying before that crucial final exam?  Uh-huh.  And when you played sports– can you recall saying a little prayer before going out there to be beaten up or worse–have something broken?  Yes.  So, what is this all about–is this a denigration of the public school systems?

Admittedly, some public school systems DO need restructuring–both at the building level and the curriculum level. However, that is not what the main thrust against public schools is about. The U.S. Constitution is very clear about the influence religion is allowed to have in the United States of America (which is our formal name).  The very first clause in the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

That means the governing body–the Legislative branch–cannot do anything to promote or deter religion–any religion or faith or church or temple or mosque or meeting hall. Sounds easy enough to understand doesn’t it?  And yet, the movement to put prayer in public schools is alive and well and has been for decades–almost 100 years!

At an earlier time in our history, when there were few recognized denominations and the U.S. population was small, religion played a big part in American life.  It had to.  White-faced people came to the native people’s continent and took over. Fighting and bloodshed were common, remember your history book? Before the telegraph, the radio and television broadcasts, the world wide web and the Internet and now iPhones, androids, blackberries and such…communication was through the printed word. The spoken word was in print. Prayer books, the Bible, and similar printed material were all the settlers had with them as they moved west away from the protection of towns and cities. People brought their religious beliefs and ideas and built their churches. Religion comforted the frightened, threatened new homeowners. This doesn’t mean that their religion saved all of them, no; we know that. However, religion represented by many denominations–many points of view about their lives and their God– grew to be the fabric of our country.  For some folk who cherish their form of religious practice it is a necessity to evangelize and proselytize–to  want others to know their choice and follow their choice. They think God will protect their children at the public school or that their God will be honored.

That said, we can understand why many people want prayer in schools. There are some dangerous school situations. Of course, it would be THEIR choice of which prayer.  Uh-huh.  So you must see that is why organized prayer cannot be admitted to the school day or any school-sponsored sport, event or function.

In the last century and in this one, along with the challenge to push for prayers to be said aloud, vouchers to be distributed to students who are under-performing due to a proven lack of quality education in a particular school is being championed by religious organizations.  The beneficiaries of these vouchers are–you guessed it–religious schools!

A recent case is recounted in Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s publication Church & State, October 2011 issue, the article titled “Rocky Mountain High” by Rob Boston.  A once-thought noble privatization plan for Douglas County, Colorado schools was uncovered to be a scheme for scholarships to religious schools, and some non-religious schools, which violated not only First Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution but the State of Colorado’s Constitution and other state laws in these ways: “It requires participating students to attend religious services and receive religious instruction, it provides tax aid to churches and religious institutions and it relies on religious qualifications for admission into participating schools”.  This quote is directly from Judge Michael A. Martinez of the District Court. (Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the lawsuit named LaRue v. Douglas County School District to the District Court of Denver County.)

There is much more to the story and there are other cases such as this one.  I urge you, the citizen and voter, to read up on the issue of prayer in school and vouchers which take your tax money and give it to religious organizations and their schools.  It is unconstitutional!  The public schools need you to rebuild them for quality education for all Americans.

1:07 pm | Posted in First Amendment | Read More »

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