Opinion: Prayer in public schools

I attended Catholic parochial grammar school in the 1960s and even though I was verypray young at the time, I can remember the nuns buzzing about the U.S. Supreme Court rulings banning conscripted prayer and Bible reading in public schools (Engel v. Vitale, 1962, Murray v. Curlett, 1963). I felt sorry for those poor kids in public schools for not being able to pray like me. By seventh grade, I was envying them.

The ban on school sanctioned prayer was an extremely bitter pill for evangelicals to swallow and remains a sour memory. The ban on school prayer was the first major defeat in the war to defend American “Christendom.” We’re still fuming about it 54 years later. But that was just the beginning. Since then, most every example of government-endorsed religious expression has been challenged in the courts with no end in sight.

From our history lessons, we know the Puritan Christian immigrants to this country could not imagine anything other than the theocratic form of government they imposed. Many universities got their start as church-sponsored seminaries. Mounting demand for religious freedom led to the prohibition of a state religion by the federal constitution adopted in 1793 but Christianity would remain as a major influence on federal, state, and local governments for 150 years. It was agreed from Maine to California that America was a “Christian nation.” Government sanctioned prayer and the reliance on Judeo-Christian laws, values, and “morality” were matters of unquestioned course. Americans had convinced themselves that God had set up a covenant relationship with the United States in the same way He had with ancient Israel; that America was THE “chosen” nation.

But things have changed in a big way in the last sixty years. The growing number of non-Christian immigrants to this country and those who rejected religion altogether began to challenge government’s sponsorship of Christianity. First to go was prayer in schools. Then Bible readings. Then such things as Christmas creches, etc., etc..

My take: Countries can’t be Christian, only people can accept Christ. We can no longer assume other citizens are Christians as was once accepted in this country. Christians can no longer impose their privileged status by claiming majority rule. That day is gone. That flag has flown. It’s obviously impossible to determine the number of genuine Christians in the U.S. but a 2014 Pew poll reveals only 25% of the population claims to be evangelical Christian (many say the actual number is quite a bit lower), 45% are mainline Protestant or Catholic, and the remaining 30% belong to other religions or are atheists/agnostics. The government is supported by taxpayers with a wide spectrum of beliefs regarding religion and it should be completely secular. If government sanctions one religious group it must in fairness sanction all of them. If we allow monuments of the Ten Commandments on our courthouse lawns we must also allow scripture from every other religious group. On second thought, the atheists will have something to say about that. No, government must be completely secular.

I choose not to pray with non-Christians. The Lord does not want me bowing my head in a prayer led by a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, etc. Why would Christian parents want their children to participate in prayers led by a Hindu or a New Ager in a public school? Christians look back with longing to a simpler time when the vast majority of people in this country professed to be Christians and the church had a strong influence throughout the culture. But the probable reality was that a very large number of professing Christians hadn’t accepted Christ at all but were just going along with the institutionalized flow imposed by American “Christendom.”

Christians, teach your children about the Lord every day in your homes. Bring them to church. But please stop complaining about prayer being banned from public schools back in 1962. Conscripted prayer in schools wasn’t a great idea then and it’s an even worse idea today. With America becoming increasingly secularized, maybe Christians can go back to spreading the Gospel instead of worrying about retaining their control of the culture or “reclaiming America for Christ.”

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18 thoughts on “Opinion: Prayer in public schools

  1. Well done, Tom, well done.

    I have a couple of issues with the way we carry on about this. I will use my own mother as an example. She complained for years about that court ruling, yet we never had a Bible in our homes, and we certainly never prayed. I don’t recall for sure if God was ever even mentioned except maybe in passing. To this day, I don’t know why it even mattered to her. It’s not our schools job to teach our kids about God, unless they go to a Christian school.

    Two, the marriage of church and state…fails…always.

    We try to say this is a “right.” Well, yes…and no. As you pointed out, how would we feel if the really sweet Muslim teacher wanted to pray? Could we legitimately object? Well, no, not really. I am Baptist….as you know. Maybe the Pentecostals would not pray to my liking, what then?

    Now the flip side of this coin is that both any teacher and any student should never be restricted in their talking about their faith in the right circumstances. Students never, never, never. Teachers…maybe depending. LOL. How is that for a riding the fence answer?

    Just my two cents.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot Wally and thanks for your thoughts. My view is students should have a lot of individual freedom but teachers and administrators should not sponsor or encourage any religious activities. I understand this is hard for American Christians who have taken their fading privileged status for granted. But if these same Christians lived in country dominated by Muslims and supported the public schools with their tax dollars, they would be very upset if their children were indoctrinated with Islamic beliefs and practices by public school staff. Yes, I’m sure that’s the reality in many Muslim-dominated countries.

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      1. I think the problem is, we want to foist responsibility for changing the world onto the “authorities.” We often say, if our leaders were just Godly, things would change.

        That’s just not so. Heck the 2d George Bush was a born again believer, and um..here we still are LOL. We have to change ourselves, then our circles, then bigger circles, and so on.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yup, the temptation is institutionalize the faith. I can understand why the Puritans thought a theocracy was the way to go and I can even understand why later Christians sought to meld the church with government…there was no one around to object and if someone did object they’d be ridden out of town on a rail. But we don’t have any excuses these days for trying to sustain what was always probably more illusion than substance. It’s a hard pill to swallow for American Christians who have sat under that kind of church/state teaching from the pulpit all of their lives.

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      3. LOL. I’ve seen your friend’s many comments. One would think he’d have given up long ago. Regarding theocracies, our fallen natures can’t help but try to control others. That’s why I think Protestantism’s many denominations was a good check against that.

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      4. That last point is really good, Tom, when so many present the differences as if they invalidate Christianity somehow.

        I still have hope for my friend, and his friends, and the whole lot of them by the way. People have sometimes gotten on to me for engaging, sometimes rather roughly. But, they keep coming back, and they keep seeing the Gospel and God’s Word written about. So, it’s all good.

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  2. Hi Tom,
    I really enjoyed your post! You stated: “Countries can’t be Christian, only people can accept Christ.” How very true. My first question, is that lil Tom in your featured picture? The removal of prayer from school was indeed the one of first ways the evil one began lulling individuals to sleep. Even in my short time here on earth, the increase of evil and the decrease of good is evident.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot, Nathan! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Naw, that’s not me. Lil Tom would have had a nun in a big, black habit standing over him with a ruler making sure his hands were folded correctly. I agree with you that more and more in our culture, people are calling evil good and good evil. Institutionalized faith and religion definitely had value in holding back evil. I can remember staying up late on Friday nights as a teenager to catch a Sophia Loren movie on television. These days, every adolescent (and younger) boy has instant access to hardcore porn via their cellphone. I believe institutionalized religion was often substituted for genuine faith in Jesus Christ back in the old days but it had its merits. Also, people back in the day undoubtedly heard the Gospel more often and had a chance to accept Christ.

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      1. I spent a lot of time studying Mormonism but I’m much less knowledgeable regarding the Watchtower S. My viewpoint is that Roman Catholicism has doctrines similarly aberrant in scale to Mormonism and the JWs but many evangelicals give it a pass because it gets a few other doctrines right.

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