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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why would a Christian want school prayer?

One topic that always causes frustration (on both sides of the issue) is whether students should be allowed to pray in school.

First, nothing prevents students from praying anytime they want in school. Many do it all the time, especially on exam days. Students can pray individually and they can get together and pray in groups. What is not allowed is for the school to require students to pray. There are many reasons for this prohibition. The primary one is that the US Constitution does not allow it. This has been confirmed in multiple court cases all over the country. A secondary reason is that it creates a hostile environment for students who do not accept that prayer. This is not just an atheist issue. There are many religions in the world besides Christianity and many of them are opposed to prayer in public school. Public schools need to be inclusive, not exclusive. Religious prayer does nothing but cause divisions.

Second, Christian attempts to put prayer into schools run directly counter to biblical teachings.  Jesus said prayer should be a private affair devoid of public display:"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room (or closet.) and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret..."  (Matthew 6:5-6 RSV). Now, I give no consideration that this bible verse has any relevance since I am not a Christian. However, this verse should be relevant to Christians who believe that the bible is god’s law to mankind.

Nothing could be clearer than the following verses:

Matthew 14:23
23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
Matthew 26:36
36. Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
Mark 1:35
35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
Mark 6:46
46 And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
Luke 5:16
16 And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.
Luke 9:18
18. And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?
Luke 22:45
45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,
 (Jesus prayed alone, as he said people should -- not in public)

Acts 10:9
9. On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
 (Peter prayed in private)

Matthew 23:14
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Mark 12:40
40 Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Besides, It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow groups to distribute bibles in classrooms during the school day. Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited. This means that Gideons cannot be present inside your child's classroom or on public school grounds to distribute bibles. Public school officials—including principals and teachers—cannot hand out bibles or otherwise facilitate the distribution of bibles. 

Courts have determined that allowing bible distribution at public schools—especially to elementary students who cannot make the distinction between private religious speech and state-sponsored speech—is unconstitutional not only because it appears to be government endorsement of Christianity, but also because of the social pressures students feel to accept the bibles. Moreover, these practices infringe parents' rights to direct the religious, or non-religious, upbringing of their own children. 

In one of the leading federal court decisions on this topic, Berger v. Rensselaer Central Sch. Corp., 982 F.2d 1160 (7th Cir. 1993), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, held that classroom distribution of Gideon bibles to fifth-graders violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In striking down the school district's policy permitting Gideons to distribute bibles at the schools, the court stated, “. . . the Gideon Bible is unabashedly Christian. In permitting distribution of ‘The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ along with limited excerpts from the Old Testament, the schools affront not only non-religious people but all those whose faiths, or lack of faith, does not encompass the New Testament.” It is significant that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand this decision, just as it let stand Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954) four decades earlier. The law is clear.>>>> 


Finally, theists try to argue that taking prayer out of school is the reason that school performance has been dropping. This is breathtakingly absurd. There are many reasons why the US public school system has been failing our children, however, school prayer is NOT one of the issues. The reasons are a lack of parental involvement, a dumbing down of the educational standards and  a lack of authority and consequences for poor behaviors when students act up. These are serious issues and the school system does need to be retooled. However, we waste valuable time and resources fighting over a complete non-issue when school prayer dominates the dialogue.

Today, the United States’ high school graduation rate ranks near the bottom among developed nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And on virtually every international assessment of academic proficiency, American secondary school students’ performance varies from mediocre to poor.

Reading Literacy
In 2003, the United States ranked 15th of 29 OECD countries in reading literacy, and with a score of 495, came in near the OECD average of 500 (U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics 2004). However, a printing error invalidated the U.S. reading section of the 2006 PISA assessment, so the current U.S. standing is unknown.

Scientific Literacy
The United States ranks 21st of 30 OECD countries in scientific literacy, and the U.S. score of 489 fell below the OECD average of 500 (OECD 2007b).
One quarter (24.4 percent) of U.S. fifteen-year-olds do not reach the baseline level of science achievement. This is the level at which students begin to demonstrate the science competencies that will enable them to use science and technology in life situations (OECD 2007b).

Mathematics Literacy
The United States ranks 25th of 30 OECD countries in mathematics literacy, and the average score of 474 fell well below the OECD average of 498. Scores have not measurably changed since 2003, when the United States ranked 24th of 29 countries (OECD 2007b).
Over one quarter (28.1 percent) of American fifteen-year-olds performed below the baseline level of mathematics proficiency at which students begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics actively in daily life (OECD 2007b).

Problem Solving
In 2003, the U.S. ranked 24th of 29 OECD countries in problem solving, and the average score of 477 fell well below the OECD average of 500 (OECD 2004).
Half of American students fell below the threshold of problem-solving skills considered necessary to meet emerging workforce demands (OECD 2004). National surveys corroborate this finding; for example, 46 percent of American manufacturers say that their employees have inadequate problem-solving skills (NAM 2005).

Equity in Achievement
The United States has an average number of students who perform at the highest proficiency levels, but a much larger proportion who perform at the lowest levels. The United States is the only member country to have relatively high proportions of both top and bottom performers (OECD 2007b).
Although American white students’ average science score of 523 ranked above the OECD average, Hispanic American (439), American Indian and Native Alaskan (436), and African American (409) students all fell far below (U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics 2007). These groups scored similarly to the national averages of Turkey and Mexico, the two lowest-performing OECD member countries.
The difference between the science scores of two students of different socioeconomic backgrounds is higher in the United States than in almost any other country (OECD 2007b).
First-generation immigrant students in the United States lag an average of 57 points behind their native counterparts, which is the equivalent of nearly two years of schooling. Second-generation U.S. immigrants perform no better than first-generation immigrant students (OECD 2007b).
Four of the five member countries that have higher proportions of immigrants than the United States also have higher national scores than the United States (OECD 2007b).

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