Monday, September 15, 2008

Should Christians Support Prayer in Public Schools?

Should Christians support prayer in public schools? That may seem like a silly question for a Christian to ask. When talking about the state of our society, many Christians point to the public schools and court rulings concerning prayer. Many go on to imply that any Christian that does not see the removal of prayer from schools as an evil thing must be submitting to the world’s influence, rather than that of the Holy Spirit.

Why There Was Prayer in the Past

When we consider the history of the public school system in America, it is easy to see why public schools had prayer. Prior to the 1840, the schools were primarily church run entities. As is the case with such organizations today, these church run schools were designed to teach doctrine rather than just reading and writing. When public schools were started, it made sense for the teachers to continue teaching the way they had in the past. If they opened with prayer in the morning, it made sense to continue that. If they used the Bible to teach reading, it made sense to continue that. No one really stopped to consider whether it was legal to use tax money in that way.

Our Constitutional Right

We cannot consider the legality of prayer in public schools without considering the First Amendment. The same amendment that gives us the right to worship as we please, to say what we wish and to pray in a public forum is the same amendment that defines the legality of public schools endorsing prayer. What this means is that if prayer is legal for one it is legal for all and if prayer is prohibited for one it is prohibited for all.

What If We Had Legal Prayer in Schools

Let us consider three prayers:

A Christian Prayer:

Lord Jesus, thank you for this day and bless us during our time at school. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

A Generic Prayer:

O God or Goddess or no god at all, we are grateful for this day and desire to be blessed during our time at school.

Another Prayer

O Mother Earth and Father Sky, we praise you for your wisdom to give us another day. We ask you to protect us from the evil gods during our time at school. Praise be Mother Earth and Father Sky.

As you look at these prayers, which would you want your children to hear every morning before they began their day? Guess what. If we have prayer in public schools, you don’t get to choose. The Constitution guarantees the right of the person praying to decide how she prays. This is as it should be. A government that must represent the rights of people with many different beliefs has no business singling out one set of doctrines as being the correct set. As a Baptist, I don’t want the government telling me that the Catholics are right and the Catholics don’t want the government telling them that the Baptists are right. I don’t want the government telling me that there is no God and the atheists don’t want the government telling them that there is a God.

Where Christians Should Stand

First and foremost, we should stand for prayer. We should encourage men and women everywhere to pray to the one and only true God.

On the issue of prayer in public schools, we should stand for freedom. At times, this may mean that we stand in support of the removal of prayer from the public schools. At others, it may mean that we stand in support of more prayer in the public schools. In order to promote freedom of speech an freedom of religion, we should be opposed to any mandatory prayer that takes place prior to the beginning of the school day, even if that prayer is to the God we worship. If we impose our beliefs on others, we open the door for them to impose their beliefs on us. We should oppose a mandatory time of prayer at graduation for that same reason.

Now consider this. What is the valedictorian of a class gets up to give his speech at graduation and begins with the words, “Please stand for a word of prayer?” That we should strongly support and fight anyone who attempts to take that right away. What’s the difference?

The valedictorian is not chosen based on what he or she believes. Usually, the valedictorian is chosen based on his or her grades. Any student with any religious beliefs whatsoever could stand in that role. One student might choose to pray before his speech while another might choose to preach the theory of evolution. For the government to prevent the student from using a position he has earned through non-religious merits to promote his religion would be a loss of freedom for all of us.

It is easy for us to think that having prayer in school means that we will have our prayer in school, but this is not true. Look around. There are far more people who disagree with your religious beliefs than those who do. If we allow the government to limit religious freedom by promoting one religious over the other or prohibiting religious expression, all those people who disagree with you are probably not going to suggest that the government select your beliefs to promote. For us to have freedom, all people must have freedom.