Yesterday I wrote about the interruption of a public school ceremony by Christian students after they lost the opportunity to say a Christian prayer as a part of the ceremony. Today, I would like to address one of the myths about school prayer. The myth is that students should be able to pray in school.
The fact of the matter is that students have the right to pray in school. Students receive no admonition for praying despite the bleating that says otherwise. At best, people are confusing the personal and the mandated. At worst, people are simply being dishonest.
There has never been a ruling that says students may not pray in school. The rulings have consistently been that the government cannot take part. The government cannot tell students when to pray. The government cannot tell students what to pray. The government cannot tell students to pray.Contrary to popular opinion, this allows the students a great amount of freedom. With no coercion from the government, students may choose when and what the content will be should they decide to pray at all. This is consistent with religious liberty.
It is ironic that critics often state that judges should not be able to say when and where students should pray. This is because it is the opposite of what has happened. Judges have ruled that only students should be able to decide when, where and how they will pray. The only laws struck down are the ones that dictate these matters to the students.
While it is true that some school administrators have essentially forbidden students from praying, these laws are consistently overturned in favor of the student’s religious liberties. The message has consistently been that the government will abstain from meddling in the religious beliefs of public school students. It will not demand religiosity nor will it ban it. It will mind its own business, which is governing.
he other cause of disagreement is the idea of “nonsectarian”. This idea centers around the idea that the government can promote, endorse and lead prayers with students as long as those prayers do not favor one specific religion. In a sense, as long as a prayer does not reference Jesus, it is all right because it is “inclusive”.
This is simply not true. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are but three religions out of dozens, if not more, religions. These religions do not adhere to biblical concepts of the divine and more. Some religions, such as Buddhism, have no concept of a god. It goes without saying almost that students without theistic beliefs are immediately excluded. Thus, the only true non-sectarian prayer is no prayer whatsoever which is how things are now with no prayers promoted, endorsed or led by the government.
However, this does not mean there are no restrictions nor that the government cannot impose some restrictions. Students, generally, cannot interrupt class by chanting loudly while other students are trying to listen to the teacher. Otherwise, students can pray quietly and silently in addition to praying with others and aloud.
Thus, students do have religious freedom and prayer is allowed in the public school system.