Faith, Thinkin' Out Loud

A Case Against Prayer In Public School

Or wherein I alienate 90% of my readership.

About once a week I get an email asking me to sign and forward a petition to the president to reinstate school prayer.

And I promptly delete it.

This may come as a surprise to you because I am a Christian and I deeply believe in the power of prayer. I am in favor of prayer. Just not in public school.

The problems with nationally mandated school prayer are many, but I’ll address just the first few that come to mind.

I suppose first and foremost, I am a vehement believer in the separation of church and state.  I do not want to live in a theocracy.  Moreover, religion and prayer are matters of the heart and government mandates don’t change the heart. I don’t want the government imposing my prayers to my God on others and I don’t want the gods and prayers of others imposed on me.  Beyond that, is the sound of required prayers pleasing to the ears of God? I don’t know.

If prayer is so important to you, then YOU should be praying with your children before school. If you are a Christian, praying with your children is your job.  And really, don’t our public school teachers already have enough to do just trying to teach kids how to read and write without also having the mandate to pray with your kids too?  I think so.  Imagine if prayer in school was mandated how much time it would take to pray to each of the gods represented by the population of public school families? Even it if was just a watered down, catch-all global version to the goodness of the universe, why bother?  It just doesn’t make sense.

I think publicly funded schools should be for academics only. In my radical view, I question whether sports should be part of public schools, but that there is blasphemy in Texas.  (And there goes the rest of my readers).

Prayer is very important to our family. We think that prayer is direct communication with God, the creator of life and the universe. We think prayer is  a very holy and serious thing to do and that there is a good and proper way to undertake such a serious matter and frankly, we don’t want to abdicate that to someone with whom we may or may not share a like view of the world.

I do believe in the power of prayer to change the world. I don’t believe nationally mandated school prayer can.

132 thoughts on “A Case Against Prayer In Public School

  1. What some people may or may not realize is that if there is a law passed mandating prayer in schools, it may not only be Christian prayers mandated. Think about the possibilities. This is not the same world or country we lived in growing up. Things are changing. Pray at home or in church. Or in your head.

  2. Holy Cat’s Batman…I think this hit a lot of people in the right place. Very well put and it should even turn the hearts of those that are crying for prayer in school. We don’t need more government intervention. Are you going to watch the Glenn Beck show tonight?

    We are catholic and like others we have the option of going to a catholic school if we really want religion in our curriculum.

    Great thoughts …thanks for sharing.

    * * *
    I don’t watch or listen to the popular political pundits — Beck, Limbaugh, Colter to name a few on the right — because often the language they use is so inflammatory that it invalidates any real point they had.

  3. Can we also have a separation of political beliefs and education?? I have recently been appalled by the politically-influenced nonsense my child comes home spouting…and he’s just in kindergarten.

  4. AMEN Sister! Though I do have to disagree with you on the sports thing somewhat (I am from Texas after all!) Thanks so much for speaking up!

  5. You didn’t alienate this reader. I am a Christian also and don’t believe in prayer in public schools.

  6. AM, You’re a great writer. I think the politicians and pundits could take a lesson from you. I’m convinced we can coexist peacefully, we just need to leave the rhetoric and inflammatory comments behind.

    Brigitte and Jean, I guess we don’t have to be yankees to appreciate New England. It does make up for the weather…. most of the time. 😉


  7. I think it is interesting what you say, and you say it very well. What I do worry about is the way the vacations and holidays have changed, to include everyone but the Christians. Christmas is no longer that, but Winter show/break. But I’m sure the kids can name all the Jewish holidays that they kids have off. I worry that the Christians seems to be pushed out the hardest, though Christ is the most important.

  8. I completely agree with you!

    As far as I know, it’s still permissible for students to lead their own prayers (ie – “See You at the Pole”), it’s just not permissible for the administration to lead the prayers. I have no problem with students praying in school as long as it’s voluntary.

  9. Preach it, SISTAH!

    One more point to your argument, though. I am a teacher who is loving Jesus and I know every Christian parent in my room would be over the moon to have me praying in class with their kids.


    Honestly? I am in the minority. I love my many co-workers, they are caring, intelligent, compassionate, wise, friendly, and fun people. However I would not want most of them standing in as a spiritual leader to my children. Most of them do not believe in Jesus, and I don’t want them praying with my children or leading them in prayer. And no matter where one lives in this world? That is probably going to be the case of the majority of teachers.

    So, Christian parents? What I would LOVE is that you would take extra time to pray FOR your schools and teachers, and much less time petitioning for another burden on teachers who may disappoint in their ability to provide the spiritual leadership you may wish for your children. I know that *I* could use all the prayers you can muster. 😀

  10. I totally agree. My husband and I, and our church, will teach our children about faith. The school can teach them algebra. (But then again, they have my genes, so the school might *not* be able to teach them algebra.) 😉

    Great post, AM.

  11. I agree with you on mandated prayer, but I do wish that students were given more freedom if they WANT to pray. I was part of the Bible Club in High School and I truly think that’s what kept me away from drugs and other bad influences. My older son has a shirt with a picture of a marijuana plant on it, but it says Legalize Prayer instead of Legalize Marijuana and I think it is shameful how our country has sidelined and disrespected people of faith. I think we just need a lot more tolerance of people’s choices, whether they choose to be religious or not.

  12. Ugh. I’m sad and actually frightened that so many either do not know, or misunderstand, or misapply the principle of separation of church & state (a principle derived largely from the First Amendment), especially as it applies to public school prayer. Many apply it to both teachers and students, which is inaccurate.

    The separation of church and state principle only applies to those who are being paid by the state, such as teachers or administrators.

    Conversely the Supreme Court has ruled that schools must preserve students’ religious liberties, and that includes their right to pray silently, out loud, individually, or in groups (but not in a way that is disruptive to the educational process.)

    On our son’s very first day of kindergarten, he raised his hand to ask about praying before eating. The teacher replied, “We don’t pray in school.”

    He came home with the completely erroneous idea that he was not allowed to pray at school. (“We don’t do that” = teacher-speak for “you may not do that”.)

    To truly adhere to, as well as effectively teach, the principles outlined in the First Amendment, she should have said something to the effect, “As your teacher, I don’t lead you in prayer, but you as students are free to pray if you’d like.”

    1st Amendment quote: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

    In the current pendulum swing toward ensuring separation of church and state, we have to be careful to truly know the law and its principles to preserve both the separation of church and state *and* our freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, or our free nation will cease to exist.

    Prayer mandated by the government? No.
    Free exercise of religion? Yes.

    Starting in school. Teach and apply our Constitution accurately.

    Apologies for blogging on your blog. This is such a hugely important issue.

  13. Because we do not know if Christians would be the teachers leading the prayers, I also do not want mandated prayer in public schools. Having been a teacher and having seen first-hand what goes on there, I encourage anyone to send their children to a good Christian school.

    I shouldn’t even get started on sports. How ridiculous! Youth are kept out very, very late to go to games. If teachers kept them out that late to read books, parents would not stand for it. My children went on to play college sports, and guess what happens at that level? Classes must be missed so that they can go all over the country (literally) to play sports. Where is the priority here?

  14. I agree. Separation of church and state is actually a protection to Christianity, not a danger.

    But…on the sports…many children’s parents could never afford private sports programs. At least they have a chance to participate at school. I realize that by high school years, only the most talented get to play; but all the students can attend and be a part of the excitement.

    * * *

    I’m not sure everyone gets to participate in sports. Especially in high school, sports seems to belong to an elite group while we all pay for that privilege. I think originally the public school system was started with the idea that an educated populace would create a better work force and a stronger nation. I fail to see how basketball and football and cheerleading do that.

  15. 1)Personally, I think that every person who believes in God is praying to the same God. Regardless of one’s faith system. Different names…same entity.

    2) You can’t force a kid to pray. Not even when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who believe the same way you do. You can be attending a Christian or Hebrew or Muslim school and during an adult-led group prayer and you can be standing still, head bowed, hands folded, eyes closed and be doing nothing more with your thoughts than running over last night’s baseball scores or your notes for an upcoming test. Who’s going to know? Likewise you can be attending a public (SECULAR…I hate it when that word is dangled between fingertips like a snot-filled kleenex someone found on the floor)school and the “moment of silence” that we have following the announcements could be used for silent prayer. Or when the classroom is silent during a test. I mean…who is going to know?
    3)Actually, when people talk about mandated school prayer, what they really want is an opportunity to make a huge production out of ONE PARTCULAR BELIEF SYSTEM. One system that–by virtue of the chance to voice your belief out loud to others–lets everyone know that your religion trumps everyone else’s. While it’s okay to think that your religions is THE WAY, this country’s take on faith guarantees that everyone else gets to think the same thing about what they believe. Freedom of religion means freedom from religious tyranny. Christians who insist on making a public spectacle out of their prayer rituals would never cotton to a situation where any other religion forced them to pray or even listen to petitions to the Divine via another believe system. What makes it okay to disrespect others in this way?
    4) I watched a child pray silently over an after school snack the other day. No one even noticed. No one tried to stop her. Were here prayers unheard by God because we all didn’t stop what we were doing and draw attention to it by making it a group project? I think not.

    5) It sickens me unto death that homeschoolers and other like them (Fundamentalists) demonize the public schools for merely carrying out what the Constitution guarantees: A mutual respect for all faiths (by not advertising one over another) and the separation of church and state.

    6) If you lose readers over your opinions, then I believe you’re well rid of people like that. Peace to you, AM.

    * * *
    I hear what you are saying. I think you make a mistake in painting home schoolers with such a broad brush. I know many many families that home school. Some could be described as fundamentalist, although I don’t know any, but others definitely not. What we all have in common is struggling to figure out how to best educate our children according to our values. ~AM

  16. You are not losing any readers that I can see. I agree with you. As many have pointed out our children can still pray just not be led or mandated.

    I believe that many Christians never really think issues all the way through. If it sounds like what should be done, then lets jump on the band wagon. However as you well pointed out, we must look at the consequences of our actions. We as Christians do not want our children praying to just any god.
    If we as parents teach our children to pray without ceasing as the Bible teaches us, then our schools will always have prayer in them. As one person pointed out as long as there are tests and exams there will be prayer. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

  17. I read this post yesterday and didn’t post right away because I wanted to be awesomely profound when I told you how right you are! I think prayer is a deeply personal and private conversation between me and God. I don’t even like it when Sunday School teachers tell me how to pray. I know I wouldn’t like it if school officials told me I had to embrace a relegion totally against my belief system by praying to another’s god.

    So, you didn’t lose this not-so-profound reader. I think I’ll continue to come back for more.

  18. You are absolutely correct… Pray at home and often….. The sports thing, too! We have a huge (and I mean HUGE) Athletic Association at my daughter’s high school and NO (and I mean absolutely NO) PTO! What is up with that?

  19. Agree. But everyone looks at me like I have two heads when I disagree with them about this subject in our little ol’ town. And I always bring up a cult (in my opinion)….and remind them that I now have family members who belong to that cult and that I would never never never want my children, or any children for that matter, praying in the manner, etc. of that cult. And if prayer is officially part of school, what’s to stop that? I really really try to explain it in a nice and respectful way.

  20. Well done, Antique Mommy!

    I am so glad that you wrote this. I can’t tell you how many times this topic has crossed my mind as a possible post, but I could never have written it as eloquently as you did.

  21. I agree whole heartedly! If I haven’t taught my children to pray anywhere/anytime they want…I have failed…not the school. Let them teach algrebra and biology (or spelling!).

  22. I agree 100% on both points AM. And thank you for so eloquently addressing Apathy Lounge’s comment on home schoolers.

    April C.

  23. ::::Berating myself for not having visited your blog in a few weeks:::: No wonder I’ve been pissy!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your 1.) wisdom, 2.) writing ability and 3.) humor.

    I will not stay away again!


  24. I get those e-mails periodically too and I always wonder how the people would feel if someone wanted to institute mandatory prayer facing Mecca or mandatory weekly visits to a Buddhist temple, etc.

    I just don’t have the guts to say stuff like that out loud. Well done you!


  26. Hey there! I found you looking for quotes about mandated prayer in schools as I was once again asked to join in a facebook cause to KEEP prayer in schools… ::sigh::

    As a reaction, I started up a facebook group called, “Whose God do YOU want in schools?” several months ago. So, I’ve added the link for this post to that group because it is such a wonderful and insightful post!!

    BTW, I homeschool my kids… and I agree with you whole-heartedly. I do think that the homeschool community USED to be widely fundamentalist in nature, but I am seeing a huge transition in this community. I am so happy to find liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Jews, Christians, agnostics, and more beginning to share in this oldest form of education for children! But I do tend to grate on the nerves of my very fundamental ‘friends’… 🙂

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