Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

Prayer in school: never banned but group-led is NOT constitutional or a good idea

There have been several posts, recently on Facebook, that warn of persecution of adherents to the Christian faith if Democrats gain control of the White House and both houses of Congress. In this vein, the current occupant of the Oval Office has promised to “return prayer to school.”
First, the SCOTUS decision that supposedly banned prayer in public schools was Engel v Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962). Neither that decision, nor to follow, banned prayer in school. Group-led prayer was ruled unconstitutional.
Justice Black wrote for the Court: When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain.
Children can pray in school. They just cannot force others to pray together as a group. Peer pressure can be great, especially among kids in elementary school. A child who chooses not to participate in group-led prayer faces ostracism.
For a moment, however, let us suppose group-led prayer in public schools is okay. To whom or to what would the children pray? This is a country with many religious beliefs and many beliefs about religion.
There are people - notably dominionists - who advocate theocracy, i.e., government run by a religion. The majority of the people who hold such beliefs where I live, Indiana, are fundamentalist Christians.
If they wrote the prayer, one reasonably may infer, the words would be of praise and supplication to the supreme deity of the Old Testament. This is a focus on a deity to which many people, including a great many Christians, would object for their kids.
In services I attended in the mid- to late 1970s as I conducted research for a novel, there were services in which baptism other than by complete immersion was demeaned as “only sprinkling” and Roman Catholicism derided for its “worships of idols,” i.e. statutes.
We form a committee then and say: ministers and priests here gathered will draft a prayer to the supreme deity, whose only begotten son ... We would have problems there because the “only begotten son” thing clearly is Christian, and not everyone is a Christian.
We then would have to accommodate members of the Hebrew faith because, according to the New Testament, Jesus was a Jew. Both religions are based on the covenant with Abraham. There still would be opposition from a lot of Christians and members of the Hebrew faith.
Also, if we look at religions based on Abraham, et al, we must include members of the Islamic faith. If one does not believe me, read the holy book of Islam. I have. I also have studied other religions.
For some weird reason, I think that the so-called religious people around dt would go into seizures were they to include, or be allowed to include, reference to Islam’s supreme deity in their prayer.
Well, nuts. We seem to hit some barriers. Of course, in Indiana in recent years, many people have settled into our communities. Many are Hindus. Other Asians who have settled here are Buddhists.
We have home-grown and imported Wiccans, of a wide variety of interpretations of the cosmos.
Let us say, hypothetically, we can expand the committee to include everyone I have listed. Okay! Sounds good! Then we might have a prayer to an amorphous, vague deity to whom children, in unison, would say, at the start of each day of school: “Yay-rah god! Let’s have a good day!”
Oops, I forgot. There also are agnostics and atheists. We would shorten the “prayer” by that point to: “Yay-rah! Let’s have a good day!”
Ours is a secular government. Benjamin Franklin, at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, proposed that each session begin with a prayer. His suggestion was voted down. Collier, Decision at Philadelphia, 1986 ed., p. 162; Stewart, The Summer of 1787, p. 103.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution provides: “...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
If religious training of children is important to people of specific beliefs, they can raise their kids in those beliefs. They simply should not force those beliefs on others.
Fear can motivate people to a great many things, few of which are good. People around dt are ramping up fear they will be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. That simply is not true. On the other hand, their beliefs play out in hatred and bigotry. For that we must get them out of power.

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