Bring Prayer Back?

My mother sent me an email petetion that she had recieved from a friend that asked each recipient to add their name and forward to their friends.  The goal of the petetion was to urge President Bush to try to get prayer reinstated in the public schools across America.  Rather than respond to the email, I started thinking.  That’s always a bad sign.

So I asked myself, “How could something as innocuous as reinstating prayer in public school possibly be a bad thing?”

Here were my thoughts:

First – exactly whose prayers are we going to reinstate?  Here in Alabama, they’d likely want some unholy Southern Baptist abomination.  In New York or Mass, you might get something quite different.  Overall, I doubt that we’re smart enough to be able to bring prayer back into public schools without also denigrating the religious sensibilities of someone – such as the 20% of Catholics in the South.  Since the public schools are for everyone, we have an obligation to provide an environment that supports all children – not just those of the majority.  So, if you can’t include everyone, then school prayer should remain private.

Second – the mission of the public schools is to provide education.  It’s the mission of one’s family to provide moral and religious guidance.  I learned mathematics and history at school.  I learned how to be a decent person at home.  I suspect this is largely true for most moral public school graduates (ok – maybe not the part about math and history).

Third – the problems with our public schools go way beyond anything that a reinstatement of prayer would fix.  For example, here in Alabama, children must bring their own pens, pencils, soap, and toilet paper to school because the school budget cannot meet the such demands.  Ok, let’s have all the kids say a couple Hail Mary’s at the beginning of each day.  Guess what – the kids would still need pens and paper, and the classes would still be overcrowded.  Ultimately, what is the tangible effect of prayer in public school?  I would guess that it would make some kids feel better, some would feel worse, and some would’t care one way or the other.  In total, it would be much like the effect of the Pledge of Allegience – kids would muddle through it each day, parroting the words, while never getting the point of what all the fuss was about.

Fourth – if prayer in public schools is the solution, what are the problems we’re really trying to resolve by bringing it back?  Is it that our kids are not Christian enough?  That there’s some sort of social breakdown?  That our “culture” has gone godless?  I very strongly suspect that there are no significant social ills that were created by removing prayer from public schools.  In addition, I suspect there are no social ills that would be resolved by bringing prayer back into the schools.

My greatest suspicion is that the call for prayer to be brought back into schools is more about perception than it is about actually doing something about social ills.  “If we only brought prayer back into the schools”, the claim goes, “then we would collectively be a more ‘Holy’ Nation”.  The fallacy, of course, is that the US – for all its popular culture and closet secularism, is very much a Christian-dominated country.  Most Americans are very devout – they pray at every opportunity, invoking the blessings of their deities at sporting events and other gatherings, and they are more willing than persons from most other developed countries acknowledge their gods in public forums.  Most of this is genuine religious fervor, so I’m betting that having public school kids pray at the beginning of their school day won’t add much to the overall mix.  Maybe the point is that if we appear more holy, then the gods won’t notice our other failings.  Maybe praying for change really is better than changing things for the better ourselves.

In any case, I believe the only place for state-sanctioned prayer is in history texts and horror novels.

27 thoughts on “Bring Prayer Back?

  1. Michael Peacock: My greatest suspicion is that the call for prayer to be brought back into schools is more about perception than it is about actually doing something about social ills.

    Anyone who’s read my posts over the years knows I’m against the “mingling” of religion and government.  The only way you could make a prayer acceptable to even most religious people would be to make the prayer so generic as to be meaningless.

    However, you are treading on dangerous ground here Mr. Peacock.  If it’s true that fighting over prayer in school will distract the government from trying to “do something about social ills,” then I say let’s bicker over prayer in school for a few decades.  The less stuff getting done at all levels of government, the better.  The only thing government has ever done about social ills, is to make them worse.

  2. Damn, that thing’s still going around? Well, I did my part to lessen the number of petitions going to Bush. It amazes me that this thing still has forwarding value a year later. I wonder how many petitions had been completed before the one I received and how many the White House has gotten since the beginning of the effort.

    Bottom line: It would be impossible to stop any child from saying, in his or her head, any prayer in school and they can profess love for God to anyone they choose. It’s a fake issue.

    Good thoughts though and I hope you deleted a signature-filled petition too.

  3. the 20% of Catholics in the South

    That number seems a little high to me (not that it’s irrelevant; even if only 2% were Catholics, they deserve the same rights as the majority Protestants).

  4. I have a bit of a question that happenned to come my mind when reading this article, but is otherwise unrelated.

    I have noticed The Simpsons and, uh, that cartoon with the beer drinking propane salesman, seem to be pushing religion pretty heavily as of late.

    Lisa praying, Homer holding a bible, that sort of thing. When I starting noticing that, I started seeing it much more in other non-animated sitcoms.

    My thought is that there is a concerted effort going on in American prime-time media at “product placement”, where the product is religion.

    Like other product placement poorly done, it stands out because it seems way out of place.

    Anyone else? Feel free to call me paranoid… but just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean the world isn’t out to get you.

    Cheers.

  5. The only way you could make a prayer acceptable to even most religious people would be to make the prayer so generic as to be meaningless.

    By definition, isn’t prayer already meaningless?

  6. For example, here in Alabama, children must bring their own pens, pencils, soap, and toilet paper to school because the school budget cannot meet the such demands

    Are you serious?  Call me a naive canadian, but how fucked up is the US education system if you can’t even provide toilet paper?

  7. I am a ‘devout’ follower of both The Simpsons and King Of The Hill.  Lisa is a Buddhist, and most of the residents of Springfield have a very conventional and shallow religiosity.  Reverend Lovejoy is a hypocrite who was driven to self-hatred by the hyper-religious Ned Flanders.  God often guest-stars on The Simpsons (no word on whether he voices His own character the way Stephen Hawking does), but he is plainly a comic-god.  Apu believes in a plethora of Hindu gods, and when Lovejoy refers to his religion as ‘other’ in a list of major religions, he replies; “Please sir!  There are eight hundred million of us!”

    Short answer: Some of the best comic genius on The Simpsons comes from the religious muse. 

    On KoTH, Hank Hill is a Methodist who accepts his church rather uncritically.  They haven’t done much with religion much but you wouldn’t be true to Texas if you didn’t make it an unquestioned cultural standard.  If there are any atheists in Hank’s neighorhood, they’d be very quiet. (Hope they feature that in an upcoming episode.)

    Maybe GeekMom could tell us more about Texas.

  8. I love the episode of The Simpsons where the meteor is going to crash into Spring field. 

    Homer: “It’s times like this I wish I were a religious man.”

    Reverend Lovejoy, running down the street:  “It’s all over people!  We don’t have a prayer!”

  9. However, you are treading on dangerous ground here Mr. Peacock.  If it’s true that fighting over prayer in school will distract the government from trying to “do something about social ills,

  10. My guess is that the people throwing these e-petitions around are incredibly ignorant about the issue. Most probably feel that the schools have some sort of magical Thought Police that charge into the rooms any time a kid feels like praying to himself silently. If this is really what they think, then I’d say these people are already beyond repair and thus we ought to just let them have their silly groundless paranoias.

  11. If this is really what they think, then I’d say these people are already beyond repair and thus we ought to just let them have their silly groundless paranoias.

    Fine, but they have an annoying tendency to run for office, from school board on up to president.  Some of them become talking heads on television or radio.

  12. My guess is that the poeple who forward these kind of e-mails are also the same ones who believe that the bank lost their password and urgently needs them to click on the link and send their password and social security number.

  13. Plus, of course, put your email addr on a list that gets forwarded round the world, it gets harvested (oh yes it does) and you get spam…

  14. Maybe this issue would finally be put to rest if Christians would read the Bible ….
    -Matthew 6:5-6: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men….when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret”
    -Matthew 14:23: Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
    -Matthew 26:36-44: Jesus went with three disciples, left them behind and went further to pray alone.
    -Mark 1:35: Jesus is went to a solitary place to pray

    No one ever stopped a silent prayer. It’s this ‘strictly enforced religion for all’ that is both the root of the problem, and directly against the teachings of Jesus.

  15. Fine, but they have an annoying tendency to run for office, from school board on up to president.  Some of them become talking heads on television or radio.

    Yeah, that is a bitch…

  16. hey, I dont know about everyone else but I learned a long time ago that appearance is what counts. not what people actually do. Look busy and kiss ass get promoted. do the work and do it well get fired. A shiny ass is more important.

    A while back the army adopted new rules for “fraternization” originally designed to put a stop to Quid-pro-Quo or whatever they called it. The rest of the military followed suit. Basicly amounted to dont fuck the people above or below you in your chain of command, thats a no-no. Evidently that wasn’t good eneough for moral america.. especially after all of the barraks porn sites started up. So now the army has presented a “modified rule” on the subject since it was often difficult to prove before. This new rule is called: “Perception is reality” anyone can make a claim and it works like a witch trial. Even if you have proof otherwise youre guilty if we say so. Corperate america is expected to adopt this mentality. Just like they did with all of the stupid Equal Opportunity training (EO) aka “consideration of others”. All a big ol time waster.

    I would be the last to tell kids they cant pray.
    Whatever happened to free will? Is this because someone is “offended” and is a pussy in general or is this a true church and state thing?

    I think shit like this diverts the attention of the masses from the more important issues. Like: why the fuck are we still in Iraq? i thought we left once.. Are we done in afghanistan? are we done in fucking korea? are we done in bosnia-herzgovina? (what happened to that anyway?)
    what happened to the war on drugs? is communism still bad? What do i get for my taxes really?

    Let them pray I dont care. give em a ‘class’for all its worth. Well see if they stop making babies and contracting shit before theyre out of high school.

  17. Hmmm.  This just smacks of people with too little to do.  Always worried about what someone else is doing versus worrying about what THEY are doing.

    Remember back to when you were a kid in school?  You didn’t care about crap like this.  You just wanted to go to school (or maybe not in some cases) to play with your friends, or when you got older, to sit next to the cute girl in class, or even older still, to see who’s party you were going to and what your chances were of getting laid.  You didn’t give a shit about whether or not there was the word “GOD” in the Pledge of Allegiance, or whether or not you were “allowed” to pray.  This is all just evidence of some whiney, nosey bastard who thinks she knows what’s best for YOUR kid.  That’s where I have my big problem.  Mind your own damn business and let me get on with mine. 

    Let’s all worry about why kids in Alabama don’t have toilet paper in school, not prayer.

  18. I think shit like this diverts the attention of the masses from the more important issues. Like: why the fuck are we still in Iraq? i thought we left once.. Are we done in afghanistan? are we done in fucking korea? are we done in bosnia-herzgovina? (what happened to that anyway?)

    I’d like to think that maybe the people are just afraid of the real issues, afraid to tackle them, so they get all hung up on stupid bullshit like this. During a period of heavy corportate layoffs, I once heard a politician from my homestate (Kansas, unfortunately) comment something along the lines of “I hate to say it, but it looks like jobs, instead of abortion, homosexual marriage, or guns, are becoming top priorities for my constituents.” I mean, god forbid that REAL POLITICAL ISSUES such as jobs or the economy should concern the people or sneak up on you during your stay in office!

    So, in my mind, either the people (and the politicians they elect) don’t want to go near real issues (i.e. out of fear or ignorance), or it may just be that the people really don’t have a clue.

  19. As a resident of the great state of Texas, I will attest to DOF’s early statement regarding the scarcity and/or timidness of atheists in our country.  It really is a whole ‘nother world down here.

    Prayer will never again be part of our public education system.  We’ve been down that road before and even the vast majority of Christians would hesitate to force someone else to pray.

    Thank goodness petition such as these are generated by bored Christian kids and religious fanatics, because a more reasonable, albeit pointless, petition would be for a moment of silence.

    One has to ask what they hope to accomplish by bringing prayer into the classroom.  What educational benefit does praying bring to the table?  According to reports issued this week, we have over 11 million illiterate people in this country.  I remember another report stating that today’s high school students lacked the necessary math and science skills to fill un-skilled labor positions.

    Is taking another few minutes of class time to pray going to solve those problems?  If someone can show that a moment of silence would increase math and reading proficiency, then I’ll hand carry the petition across Texas.

  20. A recent christian prayer in schools commercial I saw probably sums up the delusional thought behind bringing prayer back in school. A description of the commercial follows:

    The words “Then” appear as the screen fades to children reading bibles, praying and being taught bible verses while they all sit, smile attentively and act in a obedient manner.

    Then the words, “Now” appear as the screen fades to children misbehaving in the classroom not listening to the teacher while she desperately tries to teach the word “Evolution” as it is written on the chalkboard.

    Personally, I feel this commercial reeks of propaganda, however, I thought I might put it out there so that others might know exactly what the group of Christians this commercial represents believe concerning prayer in the classroom. Apparently, they think that it makes children more obedient, however, as a graduate of a christian school where we did pray every morning, I can tell you that praying at school does nothing to correct misbehavior. It’s more of a “going through the motions” mentality much like saying the pledge of allegiance. The kids, myself included, simply did it because we had to and never gave thought to the actual implications of doing so.

    Errandchild

  21. I doubt that many of your respondents are old enough to have experienced the era when kids in public schools were expected to participate in christian-style worship.  I went to a small country school in Nebraska in the early 1940s and we started each day reciting the Lord’s prayer, followed up by the singing of a few Christian hymns.  And every year we did the standard Christian nativity play.  What that accomplished for me is that I eventually became an agnostic.  I came to seriously question religion because of the fact that it was part of the school curriculum.  My reaction may have been unique, but the point is that prayer in school may not have the result that many Christians think it would have.  It could just as easily act to turn kids off on religion.

  22. prayer in school may not have the result that many Christians think it would have.

    As with so many things we do in life, especially where our children are involved.

    Thanks for sharing that story.  Very interesting.

  23. AS LONG AS THERE ARE TESTS IN SCHOOL, THERE WILL BE PRAYER!

    Oh yes!  Pah-RAISE Ja-EEZ-us brother, preach it!  Do not forget the other classics such as “No Jesus, No Peace, Know Jesus, Know Peace!” and who can forget “Got Jesus?”.  Let us also not forget the holy sticker that shows all the heathens exactly what it means to be a man: “Real Men Love Jesus!”  Yes!  You are truly one of the righteous oh brother drive by poster!  Truly you grant us all wisdom in your Google search of “Prayer in School” that turned up a 2 year old blog thread that hadn’t seen any activity in many months.  It is wise and dedicated Christians like yourself that this wicked land needs more of brother!  Can I get a witness up in here?!?!  Hallelujah!

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