Should Prayer Have Been Taken Out of Public Schools?Public schools had prayer for nearly 200 years before the Supreme Court ruled that state-mandated class prayers were unconstitutional (Engle,...

Should Prayer Have Been Taken Out of Public Schools?

Public schools had prayer for nearly 200 years before the Supreme Court ruled that state-mandated class prayers were unconstitutional (Engle, 1962). The fact that prayer was practiced for nearly 200 years establishes it by precedent as a valid and beneficial practice in our schools. Please discuss.

Expert Answers
wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While prayer has been removed from the curriculum, it has not been taken out of schools.  As educators, we are bound by the constitution to have a separation between church and state.  It  is understandable to remove the forced prayers from school.  I do not think it is fair to have students stand and recite a formal prayer together as a class (this was once a common practice).  Not everyone believes the same thing or prays the same prayer.  I think a moment of silence where people can pray any way they choose is much more appropriate.

Prayer has not been removed from schools completely.  It is simply that prayer must now be student led.  Many school teams still have prayer before they play a sport.  Our football team would take a knee before each game and have a moment of silence.  Our marching band would circle up before each high time show.  The difference now is that the prayers must be student led rather than forced participation.

kfrazier0126 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the separation of church and state, I strongly believe that prayer in schools should not be allowed.  Government should not be favoring one religion over another.  It is a person's right in the United States to believe what they wish.  Public schools should not be allowed to push a certain religion on the students.

However, I also believe that schools should provide time for individual students who wish to pray, when necessary.  Offering a silent time for personal reflection during a tough time for the school community, or allowing students whose religion requires prayer throughout the day to be excused for a brief prayer period should be appropriate ways for students to pray if they so choose.

Schools should not promote prayer in school, but respect students who do wish to pray throughout the day (as long as it does not interfere with academic performace of themselves or others) and honor requests for individual prayer time.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I cannot see this as a situation in which it would be fine to have Christian prayers (or any other prayers) in schools, no matter how limited or extensive diversity is in this country.  This is not a theocracy.  Those who wish to transmit Christian values to their progeny are free do so at home, as I am free to transmit Jewish values to my offspring and as all others are free to do as well.

I have a friend who works for state government, and his office begins the day with a prayer.  He is afraid to speak out against this because of a fear that he will lose his position.  Now, if an adult is intimidated into praying every morning, imagine what it would feel like to be a child, forced to say the prayer of another faith or suffer the consequences of being singled out as the "other."

Unless and until this is a theocracy and our First Amendment is suspended, I cannot see any argument for prayer in a public school.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The distinction, speamerfam, lies in the concept of making prayer mandatory. While I pray on a frequent basis, those around me are frequently unaware that I am doing so because I don't demand that everyone else come to a complete halt in their activities.

While I personally think it's too bad, I think that - in recognition and respect of those who have different feelings - designated periods of prayer, as in a prayer at the beginning of every day of classes, have become inappropriate and should not be allowed. However, there is no way to prevent individual students from privately recognizing their faith through prayer. The student who is sitting quietly at his/her desk may be daydreaming, may be discovering a new connection between prior knowledge and what has just been presented in class, may be planning the next text to be sent when the teacher isn't looking, or may be praying!

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I completely agree with frizzyperm here.

You could just as easily (and wrongly) say that official prayer in schools caused Americans to do things like enslaving and then segregating blacks.  Or that it caused us to keep women in a subordinate position in society.

Just put the shoe on the other foot.  Let's say that you're Protestant and everyone around you is Muslim.  Or everyone around you is Mormon.  Let's say they want your kids to pray to Allah or they want your kids to believe that God is "Heavenly Father" who is married to "Heavenly Mother."  Probably, you wouldn't like that.

There's no place in a democratic society for government telling us what to believe and how to express that belief.  Everyone is free to pray (on their own) at school.  I don't want the government telling my kids how (or whether) to do it.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As you can see, atheists, agnostics and non-Christians--a very verbal but small minority of the American population--firmly believe that prayer should not be allowed (nor ever allowed) in a public school setting. Comparing prayer with slavery is a stretch, however, and by this reasoning we should probably abolish the Pledge of Allegiance and the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as well. I certainly never had a problem with it as a child in school (I am a Christian) nor as a teacher. A satisfactory compromise for people of all religions would be to have a moment of silence each day for individuals to reflect as they wish. Seemingly, even agnostics and atheists could find sixty seconds to spend on peaceful meditation, but this solution is apparently not acceptable to some people.

pacorz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the basic tenets of America is the separation of Church and State. In public schools, which are paid for by taxpayer dollars and are therefore part of the "state", compulsory prayer is not, and has never been, appropriate. Allowing students time for reflection is a respectful thing to do, but telling them what to reflect on, or which god to direct their reflections to, is disrespectful of the myriad backgrounds of US citizens.

Incidentally, just because something is a precedent practice, that does not make it beneficial. Hitting and whipping students was also practiced in the time frame you cite, but that does not mean it was a good practice that should be continued.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is going to be a very interesting topic to think about, because obviously your response is going to be shaped by your own views on religion and, in particular, Christianity and how such ideas and values should or should not be transmitted to the next generation. Some would argue that given the multi-cultural realities of our nation today, practising a narrow Christian framework of prayer in America does not acknowledge the huge massive cultural diversity of America's varied population.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, agree that prayer itself has not been taken out of schools. At my school we have "Meet you at the pole." This is a time where students who wish to pray can join together and do so. It is not mandatory and, therefore, is not in violation of any governmental laws. I, like pohnpei, do not agree with the government telling my children if they can, or cannot, pray.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Illinois we don't have prayer (obviously) but we do have a designated moment of silence and then we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Students may use that silent time for any purpose they wish.  As a classroom teacher, I tell my students that the silent moment is a good way to redirect their focus on their primary purpose of school: education.

just-s | Student

no prayer is the key to success. for one to achieve good results one should pray.

so i think it is not a good idea for prayer to be taken out of public schools!!

frizzyperm | Student

I think you meant "Christian" prayer. At least, I'm assuming you did. And you are not right when you say prayer has been taken out of school. It is perfectly OK to pray in school, if you want to, you can go and find a quiet corner and pray, no problem. You can pray to any God you like and no-one will mind.

What was removed from school was compulsory Christian prayer. America is not a Christian country, it is a democratic republic which respects people's religious freedom. Therefore it would be totally inappropriate and illegal for government funded schools to promote one religion over another religion, (or no religion). That is why compulsory Christian prayer was removed from schools.