Monday, June 14, 2010

Prayer in Public Schools

First, I just want to briefly touch upon the Supreme Court cases, then give my analysis on the issue.  School prayer made its public debut as a legal issue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court case of Weiss v. District Board (1890).  In this case, the plaintiff was a Catholic complaining that the government was endorsing the King James Bible in school.  The ruling stated that using state funds for a sectarian text was improper because it established religion (i.e., Protestantism).  The reason why this state ruling is important is because it is cited in the majority opinion of Engel v. Vitae (1962), the famous Supreme Court case that made compulsory prayer in school illegal.

It doesn't matter what the Christian Right has to say on the matter.  The fact is that compulsory school prayer is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court was right to rule in such a way.  I'm sure that the "pro-prayer in school" crowd would argue that it would be voluntary, but if it comes on the morning announcements every day and you're at an impressionable age, would you honestly view it as voluntary? 

Now voluntary prayer, on the other hand, is legal, as it should be.  If it were made illegal, then it would be a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, plain and simple.  Plus, from a pragmatic standpoint, there is no need for compulsory prayer in school.  If Jews wanted to, they can wait until after school to pray Mincha.  For a Muslim, he can excuse himself from class since the quotidian prayer session is brief.  And Christians don't have daily, fixed prayer sessions, so they can pray whenever they want to.  If your child really has an urge to pray during the daytime, they can get together with their friends either before school or during lunch hour and pray then.   

If the lack of compulsory prayer in public schools bothers you, put your child into private, parochial school.  If this is not affordable for you, then home-school your child.  If this is not viable, then at that point, it's called being a good parent.  School only has your child for about eight hours a day for five days a week (i.e., 40 hours).  You have your child for the other 128 hours.  If you cannot instill the importance of prayer into your child, then you need to learn how to be a better parent. The last thing you should be doing is forcing your religion via the schools on everybody else's children just because you think the school is a substitute for good-old fashion parenting.  Schools are not a tenable replacement for parents, and the public school is not an institution in which it is supposed to instill religious values.  The government, whether federal or state, has no business establishing religion through compulsory prayer, and certainly has no business in violating the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.

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