Guess what, they are not the only religious group that is allowed to pray in schools.
In 1984, the Federal Equal Access Act was passed, affecting all public secondary schools that received federal funds.
It required that religious clubs be permitted in public schools if other clubs which were also not related to the curriculum were already allowed. These religious groups had to be run by the students themselves, and could not be convened during class time. Membership in the group had to be voluntary.
This would allow Christian students to also pray in school. It simply does not allow the school itself to be in charge, you know, like when the Muslim children pray by themselves.
- Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.
- Prayer does not establish a religion. Correct. It establishes a religious practice, which is just as illegal. The First Amendment does not proscribe the establishment of areligion; it proscribes establishment of religion generally. It is no more correct to argue that the state can require prayer so long as that prayer is non-sectarian than it is correct to argue that the state can require that you attend a religious service once a month so long as the state does not designate the service you have to attend.
- It doesn't harm a kid to have him/her pray. "Harm" is in the eye of the beholder. An atheist might very well consider it harmful to expose kids to religious doctrines he/she considers false and destructive. Similarly, in the years before Engle v. Vitale Catholic parents definitely considered it harmful when their children were asked to recite the Protestant version of the Lord's prayer, or were asked to read from the King James Version of the Bible which, to Catholic tastes, is translated incorrectly.
- Proscribing prayer deprives parents of their right to have prayer if they want it. No it doesn't. Prayer remains completely legal in the public schools. A parent can still instruct a child to prayer in the tradition of his or her family, and teachers must legally respect the student's right to pray so long as those prayers do not disrupt the educational mission of the schools. On the contrary, the only thing limited by proscribing organized prayer in the schools is the rights of some parents to determine whatother kids will have to pray.
- Why not just set aside a time for prayer in the morning and let kids pray as they want? Generally, such proposals are legal, so long as the time is not set aside exclusively for prayer. Moment of silence laws, for example, have been found to be legal by the Supreme Court. But if the statute sets the time aside for prayer, it amounts to the state favoring prayer over other activities, and further declares that prayer is an appropriate activity at certain times and places in the school day. The state has no right to do either of these things.
Would a school prayer amendment even work?
- School prayer would be divisive. In the years before state-supported prayer was made illegal, religious minorities were made to feel uncomfortable and excluded by mandated prayer. Jews, in particular, chaffed under the requirement to either pray Christian prayers, read from Christian Bibles, or be forced to stand in the hall. Catholics resented the protestant flavor the public schools. Other minorities (in particular, Jehovah's Witnesses) were made to feel ostracized by prayers that were not addressed to Jehovah. In recent decades the number of adherents to non-Western religions has significantly increased (it is now estimated that there are more Muslims in the United States than Jews). Finally, some students have no faith in religion at all, and take exception to being forced to participate in any type of religious ritual. It's difficult to image how school prayer in these circumstances can be anything other than a point of division between students, parents and teachers. In today's society, this is something we do not need.
- School prayer will compromise the religious rights of teachers. Some school prayer proposals do not specify that the state will write prayers for students. Rather, these proposals allow local school boards to compose prayers, or would allow teachers to compose them. In any of these circumstances the religious rights of teachers will be compromised. It is bad enough for students to be required to sit through prayers they find to be unacceptable; it is intolerable to be forced as part of one's job to lead others in these prayers. It is equally intolerable to force non-believing teachers to lead prayers. Finally, believing teacher may well feel pressured to make their prayers generic in circumstances in which they are asked to compose prayers of their own, rather than offend their students. School prayer, in other words, will place teachers in an uncomfortable situation into which they ought not to be forced.
- There is no evidence school prayer will improve our nation's moral life. Contrary to common assumptions, there is simply no evidence that school prayers will go any distance whatsoever in improving American morality. We do not understand how the rote repetition of a one or two line prayer with little theological content is going to do anything to challenge students to lead ethical lives. While we believe in the efficacy of prayer, we doubt that prayer means anything to people when they are forced to say it, and when it says nothing of consequence. Pre-World War II Germany is an apt illustration of our point. In the years before and after the rise of Hitler, German school children were required to say a non-sectarian prayer every morning, and received religious instruction for at least one hour a week in the public schools (Catholics, Protestants, and Jews were separated into groups and were taught by state approved religious leaders). Despite this training (which is considerably more than that proposed by American school prayer advocates), Germany still opted for Nazism, and still implemented the final solution. School prayer did not stop public evil in Germany. Neither, we think, will it stop public evil in the United States.