I keep seeing people who push for what they generically call “prayer in schools”, claiming that it would fix all the problems if we just had our teachers leading students in prayer. There’s a whole lot wrong with that line of thought, but it is so common I wanted to address it a little bit. The United States is a secular government, but what would it be like if we put “prayer” back in schools?
Would Christians be comfortable having their children led in a non-Christian prayer? Because that is exactly what will happen if you allow teachers to lead prayer, but don’t demand that they conform to a Christian religion.
Or would you require all of your teachers (which are state employees) to follow a specific religion? Which version of Christianity would you recommend? Catholic, since it is the largest and has centralized leadership to keep its teachings uniform? Would you be comfortable having your children come home speaking in tongues or shaking with tremors because that’s what the teacher at school does?
I am convinced that it is better to leave the teaching of religion to families, rather than trying to have the government accommodate it in public schools. Schools already have their hands full with the lessons that have crystal clear right and wrong answers. Prayer is not banned from schools – teacher led prayers are banned. Nobody can force your child to pray to another god while at school, and it’s better this way than to open the problems that come with state-instituted religion.
Furthermore, if having your children led in prayer at school is that important to you, our government still allows for the attendance of private schools where your beliefs can be taught and respected by people of your choosing. That way, you can have your beliefs taught and respected in an academic environment, with the full support of the school authorities.
But that’s not really what “prayer in schools” is really about. The push for prayer in schools isn’t about improving the school, it is about coercing young people into religion. What happens to students who refuse to engage in the teacher led prayers? Are they going to be punished by a state institution for refusing to engage in a religion that is not their own? What happens to our first amendment of our Bill of Rights, which prohibits the establishment of a government endorsed religion, if we start punishing the upstarts who refuse to respect that religion? Or do you imagine a school where students are harassed by their peers for a difference of belief, where the teachers tacitly overlook harassment and assault that enforces conformity to their beliefs?
Everyone who pushes for prayer in schools always imagines it will be their religion that gets taught without dissent, but that’s never quite how things turn out.