Viewable With ANY Browser

Note: My Web pages are best viewed with style sheets enabled.


Prayers in the Public Schools

Copyright © 1997, 2000 by David E. Ross

1327 Proselytizing

District schools are built and operated with public funds obtained through taxes levied on persons of all beliefs and philosophies. Thus, this district must not become involved in supporting any religious or anti-religious activity. Religious or anti-religious proselytizing of any Oak park student is prohibited on school property or at any school-sponsored activity. This prohibition applies not only to specific beliefs but also to the opposition to or the promotion of religion in general.

School Board Policy Manual
Oak Park Unified School District

Once again, Congress is debating prayer in public schools and religious ceremonies in public facilities. I support the court decisions — based on the 1st Amendment of the Constitution — that separate religion and government. The "free exercise" clause of the 1st Amendment means that government has no right to interfere in an individual's religious beliefs and practices (except to prevent encroachment on another individual's religious rights). The "no establishment" clause means that government must not favor or oppose any specific religion or religion in general. The correct position for government is strict neutrality regarding religion; this position is reflected in the school board policy quoted above (which I originally drafted when I was a member of the Oak Park School Board).

Problems with group prayers and organized times for individual prayers in a public school include:

The diversity of religious beliefs among students — and the need to preserve that diversity for the sake of their parents — makes any attempt at a meaningful religious exercise inappropriate in a public school, where the educational experience is supposed to unify society in the midst of diversity. In our public schools, we must avoid any practice that might weaken the respect children should have for their own parents' religious beliefs. Prohibiting organized group prayer in our schools thus benefits both religion and education.

Thomas Jefferson was right. A wall of separation between religion and government is best for both.

16 May 1997

We have an excellent example of what happens when Jefferson is ignored. Dr. Henry Jordan, a member of the State School Board in North Carolina, wants to post a copy of the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom in his state. In support of his proposal, he declared: "This nation was founded to worship, honor and glorify Jesus Christ, not Mohammed, not Buddha." Not only would Dr. Jordan disenfranchise all non-Christian citizens, but he also attempts to change history by denying the role played by Jews, atheists, and agnostics in the American Revolution.

When asked if non-Christians might object to his position, Dr. Jordan (a public official) proposed to "screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims" if they did not like it. This is not a lesson the state of North Carolina should be teaching its students. It is definitely not a lesson about freedom of religion or tolerance.

27 May 1997

Lisa Herdahl of Ecru, Mississippi, finally decided that the daily reciting of prayers over the public address system in her children's public school was wrong. It was not merely because the prayers aligned with a specific church other than her own Lutheran church. She also recognized that this was a clear attempt by a government agency (the public school system) to establish a religion.

When Ms Herdahl protested, she was ignored. So she filed a lawsuit against the school system. Although firm in her Lutheran beliefs and a regular church-goer, she was branded a devil-worshipper. Because of her stand, she lost her job. Her children were harassed at school by both students and teachers. Her family was threatened with violence.

This is the result of attempting to create religious uniformity through school prayers. Is this the kind of community in which we want to live, where individuals of differing religious beliefs are unwelcome?

8 July 1997

Last month, the U. S. Supreme Court spoke again on this issue. Consistent with several prior decisions over nearly four decades, the Court ruled that — when students are compelled to be present — religious prayers carried over a public address system are prohibited.

Ruling in Santa Fe Independent School District vs Doe, the Court noted that a single student was elected by the student body to lead prayers at football games. Since players, band members, and cheerleaders are mandated to attend the games, an unconstitutional captive audience of students was created. Since the student was elected under the authority of the school and no other student was allowed to present a differing religious view, the Court ruled that the Santa Fe Independent School District had indeed become involved as a government agency in illegally promoting a religious practice. The Court also condemned the concept that the religious practices of a community could be put to a vote; the decision of even an overwhelming majority cannot infringe upon the rights of a religious minority.

Contrary to those whose agenda is to Christianize the United States, the Court did not remove religion from public schools. Indeed, the Court reaffirmed the right of individual students to pray.

At Santa Fe High School, did the prayers end with "Amen" or with "Hike", just as the last line of The Star Spangled Banner is now well known to be "Play ball!"? Did such prayers really support religion, or did the raucous environment of a high school football game devalue the true religious importance of prayer?

Texas Governor Bush submitted a brief to the Supreme Court in strong (but unsuccessful) support of the Santa Fe Independent School District. If elected President this year, Bush vows to appoint new justices to the Court to overturn this decision and begin our nation on the path to theocracy.

9 July 2000

Comments previously found on this page beyond this point that really relate to the more general issue of separating religion and government have been moved to Religion and Government.

18 November 2003

Link to David Ross's home page
David Ross home
Valid HTML 4.01