Ackerman states that few issues in the American public life have proven to be as persistent and as controversial as the issue of prayer and religion in the public schools (2).Prayer in public schools has been a sensitive issue and for a long time now, Americans have been in a state of confusion on the issue of separation of prayer from the state. It is also important to note that the topic is too often shrouded in misinformation which makes it a critical issue considering the fact that almost 90 percent of young people attend public schools (Childers 45) in the country. Therefore, issues that affect the American public schools are more likely to shape the American society to some extent considering the fact that majority of the population goes through public schools. the American constitution for this matter provides a regulation for prayer in public schools that gives room for freedom of religion but recognizes the school as an educational centre and not a devotional unit. The constitution does not allow organized prayer in a public school setting or any form of religious school sponsored event. However, private or voluntary student prayer that does not interfere with the educational mission of the school is allowed. This ensures that the parents of the children have the sole responsibility of overseeing the childs religious upbringing and the schools are not used as a platform of religious persuasion to make student adopt some religious believes but rather an institution that is solely responsible for the academic growth of the student.
Historically, religious freedom has always been a tradition in the American society. However, advocates have been keen to maintain the separation of religion from the state and as a result of these efforts; the Americans enjoy more religious liberty compared to most people around the globe. Horrace Mann for instance, who is regarded as the father of the American public school system saw the importance of avoiding the support of a common religious course in schools considering the fact that the American society was a multi-religious and diversified society. He therefore championed for the elimination of sectarianism from the American public schools that would lead to division in the schools systems. However, in reality the schools reflected the majority religious view a kind of Protestantism and nondenominational. Hence, devotional readings were conducted before classes and the Lords Prayer was recited as a norm in the public schools. Every student was supposed to take part in these practices regardless of whether they shared these religious sentiments or not until tension started to arise when other religions stated to challenge these school-sponsored religious practices. Such tensions led to legal challenging of these school-sponsored religious practices in the late 19th century and several states ruled against these practices. Courts ruled that prayers and devotions was not a job of the public schools rather a responsibility of the parents. It was then declared that government imposed religion was unconstitutional and against the fundamental rights of conscience. With time, prayer and bible reading in schools has become less advocated for and it is now unconstitutional to conduct school sponsored prayers and bible reading. The Supreme Court has played a major role in shaping the countrys history of prayers and bible reading in public schools. It has been consistent in its rulings against religious indoctrination through the school system, prayers and devotion in the American public schools and prayers and bible reading and other rulings barring student led payers in public school events (Ackerman 10).
Despite the historical developments including court rulings and constitutional amendments on prayer in schools, debates and arguments still exist on this issue. Congress states that the "benefits provision of religious freedom amendment is greatly misinterpreted by some opponents of this proposal (11041). Some citizens still advocate for the return of prayer to public schools. They believe that in banning school prayer, the American supreme court has misinterpreted the establishment clause of the constitution and that a allowing a simple voluntary session in a public school does not amount to the government establishing a religion in schools. They also argue that by banning prayer in schools, the Supreme Court has failed to observe the principle of freedom of religion which is guaranteed by the constitution. In the view of those who are advocating for prayer in schools, allowing students to conduct their religious practices freely will allow them to observe their religious beliefs in school all day.
Allowing school sponsored prayers and devotion in the American schools is still an ongoing public debate. Some people argue that allowing prayer in these schools could add more value to the education system while those who are against it strongly argue that America is a multi-faith country and that should be kept in mind to ensure that the nation or government does not embrace one religion leading to oppression of others. However, what remains evident is the fact that most Americans do not completely understand the concept of prayer in school completely with others thinking that praying in schools is banned which is not true at all. It is therefore important to remember that prayer in schools has its pros and cons and both must be weighed to determine what is best for the American public schools.
There is some truth in the fact that allowing prayer in schools could benefit the society in many ways. Prayer in schools would instill a sense of morality to the children. Over the recent past, there have been increased cases of schools shootings, increased levels of alcoholism, increased case of teen pregnancies and increased cases of HIV transmission. School prayer could help in resolving some of these issues and it is desperately needed to protect the children by instilling values that would be very crucial, moving forward. School prayer would also be very essential in addressing the needs of the whole person as spiritual nourishment has been found to nurture a persons soul and reinforce his or her values learnt at home or in the community (Brimi 126).
However, allowing prayer in schools would completely change the purpose of the American public schools. For instance, schools are meant for education and allowing school sponsored prayers in schools would lead to schools becoming more religious leading to proselytism. This will undermine the role of the family which is to observe the religious and moral development of the children. Additionally, allowing prayer in schools would mean that the government shall support a given religion hence violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which provides that, congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion (Hames & Ekern 350).
The American society has become increasingly characterized by cultural and religious worldviews that are different and reasonable (Burtonwood 66) hence allowing school prayer may lead to intolerance. Public prayer is likely to uncover the religious differences which many students are unaware of, which may lead to division in the school system or ostracism for those students who are not willing to participate in prayers. It is also important to note that the American population is now large and growing with people from different backgrounds and religious beliefs including Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Buddhists (Smith 580). These people share the same social institutions which include public schools and hence imposing a given religion would lead to discrimination and disharmony in schools. It is difficult to integrate everybody into a single faith and that is why the church is separated from the state to ensure that everyone enjoys their religious freedom independently without interfering with other people as well as maintaining neutrality so that all religions can coexist.
It is therefore evident that in spite of the pros of prayer and religious practices in public schools, religious neutrality is the best course for the American public schools. Neutrality is the best stance for the nation considering the fact that America is s multi-faith country as a well as a religiously diverse society. With the current principles of worship and prayer in public schools, students can conduct personal private religious expression without endorsing any specific faith. Additionally, these principles do not violate a students freedom of religion because it allows voluntary meeting and discussions about prayer as long as they do not disrupt the normal schedule or other students normal operations. Hence, Americans should resist any efforts by individuals lobbying for sectarianism in the nations public schools to safeguard the fruits of religious diversity and maintain the role of the school which is to educate and not to proselytize.
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Ackerman, David M. Prayer and Religion in the Public Schools. New York, NY: Novinka Books, 2001. Print.
Brimi, Hunter. "Academic instructors or moral guides? Moral education in America and the teacher's dilemma." The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas 82.3 (2009): 125-130.
Burtonwood, Neil. Cultural diversity, liberal pluralism and schools: Isaiah Berlin and education. Routledge, 2006.
Childers, Jay P. The Evolving Citizen: American Youth and the Changing Norms of Democratic Engagement. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. Print.
Congress. Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 110th Congress. Government Printing Office, 2011.
Hames, Joanne Banker, and Yvonne Ekern. Constitutional Law: Principles and Practice. Cengage Learning, 2012.
Smith, Tom W. "Religious diversity in America: The emergence of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion41.3 (2002): 577-585.Bottom of Form
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