In American modern society during last centuries prayers in schools became rather spread phenomena that is allowed and adopted by American in many schools. There can be different kinds of prayers that depend in majority on the type of school: prayer may be either be permitted or proscribed. The permitted prayer means that it can be a required activity or optional for students.
The problem of school prayers existed in USA several centuries. Since 18th century till early 20th centuries the beginning of school days always was an oral prayer. When it happened so that the First Amendment was proclaimed and after that adopted in all American states, those people who were opponents of idea of prayers in schools with the help of the court decision and the 14th Amendment got this practice abolished, though prayer didn’t disappear altogether.
In USA prayer in public schools was finally proclaimed outlaw by two Supreme Court decisions: Engel vs. Vitale in 1962 and Abington School District vs. Schempp in 1963. After this followed the Court’s decision in Lemon vs. Kurtzman in 1971. It established the so-called “Lemon test” that defines special criteria for any practice adopted by the government and that is going to be established in public schools. So, according to it this practice must: have a secular purpose; must neither give advance nor violate religion, and must not be a reason of contradictions between religion and state.
Taking into consideration Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the decision was worked out that students’ religious views that are expressed through prayer cannot be limited or violated unless they can become a reason of disruption in schools. While reinstatement of prayers in schools were made many attempts in different forms in different areas of USA. As a result we can see that in several areas of USA schools oral prayer is established; in some other – so called “moment of silence” or “moment of reflection” when a student has a possibility to offer a silent prayer.
Some opponents of prayer in school problem suggest those students willing to express their religious views to pray during their free time and non-school hours, or perhaps to make it possible to pray even during school hours with the condition of not making it organized obligatory activity.
It is possible to say without any doubt that prayer in schools is a controversial point, on which it doesn’t seam possible to find a definite solution. What are the real facts that hide behind this controversial practice? Is it possible to consider prayer in the schools a “solution” to a so wide range of problems existing in contemporary society nowadays? Are obligatory religious rituals the only way to teach children in schools the moral values in life?
Nowadays quite a lot of religious groups insist that it is necessary to “put God in the classroom”, and begin to exaggerate the role of religion in history, civics and other subjects. But what are the facts behind the school prayer controversy? There are serious legal and ethical problems involved; and there is the danger of turning our schools into religious pulpits, rather than institutions which teach children subjects like math, science, biology and history.
In my opinion there always existed religious groups who go too far and exaggerate the role of religion in history of the world or in separate nations, willing to put it in the studies of everything starting with history and finishing with biology.
American Atheists oppose school prayer for a number of reasons. The first and main reason is that it contradicts the Constitution and turns to be a pure violation of First Amendment. It is known, that amendment contains the “Establishment Clause” that deprives government the right to establish any religion in state.
Statistics shows that most people are against the idea of mandatory prayer in schools. But even if it could happen so that the overwhelming majority of people considered the prayer to be a good idea it definitely doesn’t make the whole practice just and constitutional. While opposing school prayer some American Atheists also points out that school prayer is not effective at all and happens obviously to be a sort of religious indoctrination.
But some other people who support the idea of prayer in schools can ask another question: isn’t it necessary to protect the rights of the students who do wish to express their religious views and pray?
It would be fair to point out that the rights of those students are definitely not violated and they can pray even in schools if they want to do so. They can pray during lunch-breaks, walking on their way to and from the school, and of course, during their free time. There is a feeling that the real purpose of the prayer-in-school movement is to either involve both those students who wish to pray or don’t have this desire into religious ritual. That is clearly wrong, and can be called a violation of the separation of government and religion.
To my point of view it is very unclear why some people believe that not having a school prayer law keeps people from praying at school. And also how can it happen that a law defines anyone’s words from their heart and soul to God or from God to people’s heart? It happens so that any social culture any law, produced by government can influence, limit or define anybody’s access to God, and that God has no say in the matter at all. In this case it is impossible to talk about freedom to any religion. It is known that Prayer is a communication between human beings and God, my understanding is that God has a full voice in the matter. The Bible tells clearly that nothing can separate us from God or God’s love for us. It is possible to add that nobody’s desire or will of any human being can influence on our wish to communicate with God or not to do that, to pray or keep our hearts and souls closed.
But the fact it that prayer already exists in many schools. The thing that can increase people willing to give prayer in schools is definitely not a state-obligatory law to pray, but parents who will teach their children about what prayer is, and how they can use available time at school to pray in a way that makes sense for them.
It is necessary to understand that Prayer is a gift from God but not a weapon that can be widely used by politicians, because in the end it may lead to a very sad results. My back-to-school prayer is that those who choose to pray will have been taught how, and will know that it is their choice, as people of faith, to pray whenever they can, wherever they can.
- Cory L. Kemp. (2005). My Back-To-School Prayer. Retrieved November 01, 2005 from http://wmm.net.ru/html/Religion/2006/1109/16873.html
- Prayer in schools. (1999). Retrieved December, 02, 1999 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A211384
- American Atheists. (2002). Prayer in schools. Retrieved June, 15, 2002 from http://www.atheists.org/publicschools/