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August 4, 2001

Supporting Prayers in Schools

[Gaylor 1995] "Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….

"But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret."-Matt.6: 5-6
Religion is the opiate of the masses-amongst many others that have come up; religion is, and always has been a fundamentally private prerogative. Throughout the archives of history we find no instance that glorifies a coerced acceptance or practice of any religion.
       The debate concerning school prayers has been a heated one over the last few decades.

It would be moronic to believe that the debate is of religious nature since the idea of school prayers appeals mainly to the radical conservatives.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Policy

As (www.aclu.org) national board policy # 81.a states in part:" The ACLU believes that any program of religious indoctrination--direct or indirect--in the public school or by use of public resources is a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and must be opposed." Policy # 81.b states that the ACLU "opposes the infusion of other types of religious practices and standards into the public schools. These include such practices as baccalaureate exercises in the form of religious services, prayer meetings at athletic events, taking of a religious census of pupils…and the profession of religious observance or belief as a consideration in the evaluation and promotion of teachers."[1932,1962]

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Moral decline

The proponents of the school prayer amendment suggest a cause and effect relationship between taking prayer out of school and the moral degeneration of the nation. This is equivalent to saying that the induction of a sound religious set up obliterates the existence of vices in a culture.

The democratic structure of our country is more secular than religious. For the past fifty years the Supreme Court has upheld the notion of "separation between the church and state." As a result the US has resulted as a model of a high tolerance culture.

School prayer amendment

[Gaylor 1995] "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
This statement in the Constitution emphasizes one of the central principles of American ideology -- that the state leaves religion alone. It will be a great injustice to the freedom of a child to be in an oppressed environment facing a conflict between his parent's views, the teacher's view and peer pressure. In cases where official school prayer has been permitted, there is ample evidence of children bearing mental and physical abuse. The text of the [Gaylor 1995] proposed federal amendment, as of January 1995, reads:
Nothing in this constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any State to participate in prayer. Neither the United States nor any State shall compose the words of any prayer to be said in public schools.

This clearly expresses that the real intention is to propagate group prayers since the right to individual prayer already exists.  

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Purpose of schools

The introduction of religion in pubic schools will merely serve as a precedent to the awareness of religious differences among children .The purpose of schools is to educate, not preach. The schools are for all children regardless of colour, caste, creed, gender or religion. All taxpayers also support them. Therefore it would not only be socially but also morally wrong to
Institutionalize prayers.

Result of institutionalized prayers

An invasion of a single religion has always resulted in singling out the Jew, the Muslim, the Atheist and never uniting a nation. The school districts that do not abide by law, school children are still persecuted on the basis of religious differences. The children of Supreme Court plaintiffs such as Vashti McCollum, Ed Schempp and Ishmael Jaffree were harassed and abused and the families were treated as out casts.

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Past trends in schools

Horace Maan, the pioneer of public school system largely eliminated sectarianism from schools by the 1840's.
Until the 20th century only Massachusetts had bible readings in schools. It was after 1913 that 11 other states made it compulsory. Many states prohibited these practices by judicial decree.

In the 1850's The NY State removed the requirement of prayers in sachools. President Roosevelt said [Gaylor 1995] that it is not "not our business to have the Protestant Bible or the Catholic Vulgate or the Talmud read in these schools."

What is wrong with preaching religion in schools? Everything!

Piety does not equal to virtue. People are appreciated and condemned for their actions and not their beliefs. The loudness of your prayer is not an indication of moral rectitude. American culture is an extremely cosmopolitan culture. In an environment where gay marriages and abortion are legal, public prayers hardly seem to be an issue of considerable import. As a matter of fact it is just another ploy to distract the masses from more important matters.

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The diversity in religious issues is constitutionally protected. The government should not be picking sides in religious debates. The next thing might be laws concerning dinner timings and what every individual should be thinking about his neighbor.

Prayer is not the answer to morality in an environment. Japan has the lowest crime rate of any developed nation, although nobody prays in school. In Saudi Arabia prayers are ceremonious but the low crime rate is more due to strict law implementation and state management than prayers. The criteria of admissions to school do not include holiness then why should prayers be a compulsion in school life.

The democratic structure of our country uses the majority votes to elect the government but not to dictate the nation wide religion to be practiced. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination. In some districts the Muslims are the majority. Would it be fair to subject non-believers of a particular faith to some act that they cannot relate to?

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Separation of Church and State

Our constitution is wisely based on secularism rather than divinity. The framers knew from the examples of the thirteen colonies and the bloodshed in Europe that the entanglement of the Church and the State would only result in killing and mayhem.
[Gaylor 1995] "Persecution is not an original feature in any religion: but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law."-Thomas Paine

Views on prayers in public schools [Gaylor 1995]

"There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant, opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed."

-Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, March18, 1890

"Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.'

-Ulysses S.Grant,"The President's Speech at Des Moines"(1875)

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
-First Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S.Constitution

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,'thusbuilding a wall of separation between church and state."

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-President Thomas Jefferson, 1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut

Supreme Court Cases Opposing School Prayers [Gaylor 1995]

McCOLLUM V. BOARD OF EDUCATION [1948]
TUDOR V.BOARD OF EDUCATION OF RUTHERFORD[1953]
ENGEL V.VITALE [1962]
ABINGTON TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT V.SCHEMPP [1963]
EPPERSON V. ARKANSAS [1968]
WALLACE V.JAFFREE [1985]
LEE V.WEISMAN [1992]
BERGER V.RENSSELAER [1993]

Conclusion

Prayers in schools are not a panacea to vices. They are an invitation. We have entered the 21st century. Religion is more a symbol of personal identity today. In the past centuries the wars were fought with religion as the bone of contention, today politics and economy have taken a front seat. Our children should be maneuvered towards constructive tasks instead of being exploited by manipulating politicians. Some people believe in God, others don't. Until the day of judgement, there is not much that any worldly government can do about it.

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Works cited

Gaylor,Annie Laurie The Case Against School Prayer[1995 ]. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on August 3, 2001  
(www.ffrf.org)

www.aclu.org, Retrieved from the World Wide Web on August 3, 2001

 
 


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