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Prevent Coercive Prayer in Public Schools

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or

prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This amendment, commonly called the

Establishment Clause, forms the foundation of the right of every American to

practice their chosen religion freely and without the interference of the

government. In 1947, the Supreme Court issued a statement emphasizing the

separation of school and state based on this amendment. Students are entitled

to the right to express their religious beliefs in school, but it is

unconstitutional for the administration to endorse or discriminate against any

religion. Due to this interpretation, the practice of coercive prayer is

unconstitutional, and should be kept forever separated from this nation’s


The purpose of public schools is to educate, not indoctrinate.

Schoolchildren are a captive audience. How could a second-, fourth-, or even

sixth-grader view the routine recital of prayers during the school day as a

voluntary action? This invasive practice would create unnecessary divisions

among children by making them unduly aware of their religious differences.

Public schools are for everyone, whether they are Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, or

Taoist. The practice of organized prayer in schools invades the student’s right

to an education free of the discrimination which organized prayer would


Many people mistake the religious indifference of public schools for

hostility. Public schools must to be very careful to neither discriminate for

nor against any single religion, and people often incorrectly perceive the

schools’ attitudes toward religion. The non-discrimination requirement may seem

wrong to many, but when religion has a home in public schools, it singles out

the students who disagree with the theology being taught. Prior to the Supreme

Court’s decisions against school prayer, it was standard practice to put the

students who didn’t agree with the theology being taught in places of detention

during Bible readings and prayers.

One argument in favor of the practice of school-organized prayer draws

its basis from the belief that students must be taught morals in school, and

that morals cannot be taught in the proper manner without the use of religion.

Proponents of this viewpoint believe that an ethical code cannot exist without

some higher power dictating it to mankind, because humans have not the self-

control to follow such a code unless there is a deity to distribute rewards to

the faithful and mete out punishments to the transgressors.

There are several obvious fallacies in this argument. The first is the

assumption that morals must be taught in public schools. Many people hold the

belief that it is the duty of the students’ parents, and not the responsibility

of the school system, to teach the students matters of ethics. Another mistake

is to assume that a moral law cannot be taught without the use of religion.

There are many logical, non-religious reasons for following a moral code that is

acceptable to this society. If one does not agree to follow the morals of the

rest of the citizens of the U. S., one will quickly be incarcerated. The

American people are already under the power of an entity which wields immense

power and has the capacity to punish those who do not conform to society’s

ideals: the federal government.

Often, debaters in favor of coercive prayer in school feel themselves

compelled to quote statistics and percentages, a practice which is not usually

useful to the debate in general because there is rarely any proof to link the

rampant rise of “sin” with the practice of school-endorsed prayer. “Since the

court outlawed prayer?divorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, and teen

suicide went up 300%? abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlation

between the expulsion of prayer from our schools and the decline in morality.”

(Geisler) The question one must ask is, “What do these things have to do with

the ban on coercive prayer?” The answer, of course, is, “Nothing.” Anyone who

is convinced that there is a cause and effect relationship between the ban on

faculty endorsed prayer in school and an increase of activities considered by

many to be immoral must either have far greater insight than the foremost

rational thinkers of our time, or must consider the issue of whether or not

coercive prayer is being utilized in school as a matter of great personal

interest. The connection between the above practices and the ban of organized

prayer is dubious at best.

A third line of reasoning involves the fact that public schools in the

United States were originally organized by early settlers to teach children to

read and write with the intent to further the settlers’ religion, and the fact

that the established system worked well for almost two hundred years. The

original intent of public schools is outdated now. During the early years of

public schooling, everyone who attended school shared the same beliefs. Today,

a myriad of different religious groups are represented in our nation’s public

schools, and it would be a grave injustice to cater to one, only to risk

offending all those who have been excluded. Once an institution is outdated and

no longer contributing to society, it must be modified or eliminated.

Some argue that the First Amendment doesn’t actually separate state and

religion, but encourages religion, and, in fact, implies nothing in terms of

separation of state and religion. “The second clause [of the first amendment]

insists that the government should do nothing to discourage religion. But

forbidding prayer in schools discourages religion” (Geisler) On the contrary,

forbidding prayer in schools does not discourage religion, but does prevent

offense and the alienation of students who have viewpoints which conflict with

the established religion. Each student has the constitutional right to worship

however the student wishes, even during school hours, so long as the student

doesn’t disturb classmates and prevent themselves and other students from

completing their assigned work. Since the Supreme Court has specifically stated

that any form of coercive prayer is a breach of the rights of the student, the

solution seems to be obvious. The reason that many people who endorse coercive

prayer have problems with the Supreme Court ban is not that citizens feel that

their freedom of speech is under attack, but that their practice of forcing

their viewpoints upon others who profess different beliefs has been outlawed.

This practice itself is despicable in that, should the courts ever reverse their

interpretation of the First Amendment, it would threaten the very diversity of

beliefs which the United States of America has always maintained. Were Buddhist

schoolchildren forced to listen to the Lord’s Prayer every morning, the school

would be undermining the children’s parents’ right to teach religion to their

children as the parents see fit. If, during the act of coercive prayer,

administrators isolated students who maintained beliefs different from those

practiced by the majority from their classmates, the administration would be

facilitating the opening of an emotional and social rift between the students of

different religious sects. This obviously runs contrary to the purpose of

public schools, whose function is not only to educate, but also to aid in social

development. The First Amendment states very plainly that Congress is not

allowed to make any law which involves the establishment of religion or

interferes with the right of the citizens of this country to freely practice the

religion of their choice. There is no question of ambiguity or vague wording in

the First Amendment.

After reviewing countless essays and manifestoes in favor of coercive

prayer in public schools, there has yet to be an indisputable argument based

entirely on established facts. The ranks of those who are in favor of the

practice seem to be mostly comprised of conservatives who see the Supreme Court’

s ban as a threat to their practice of evangelizing those of other religions in

order to swell their own ranks. Even though this country is based upon the

principle of majority rule, it is reassuring to see that the minority does have

a chance for justice. Even though the Supreme Court has set a precedent, there

will be many cases respecting coercive prayer brought before courts throughout

the country for as long as this country stands. Thus the public is urged to

militantly protect themselves from the act of organized school prayer. Keep

coercive prayer out of our public schools forever!

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