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Prayer in Public Schools: A contemporary Debate Completed by University of Outline 1. Introduction (Debate in favor of having prayer in public schools is initiated at this point). The thesis statement is, “In the contemporary world of loss of morality, degrading of the school’s system, and lack of strong educational and moral principles among students, it is crucial to initiate prayer in public schools in order to form basis for pupils’ successful spirituality development”. 2. The body of the paper covers three main points: a. Children have unalienable rights granted by them by the First Amendment to pray in their places of study. By taking this right away the government violates the children’s rights. A. It is not just to act in this way B. The government is elected to support and protect children, but not to diminish their rights b. The Bible specifically instructs that children have the right to pray whenever and wherever they wish (Matt. 6:7) A. United States calls itself a country that respects God, thus the words of God should be at least adhered to B. The twofold politics of allowing prayer in some places and prohibiting it in others can’t be justified c. As demonstrated by such cases as Engel v. Vitale, Abington v. Schempp, Lemon v. Kurtzman, etc., the historical experience indicates that court doesn’t completely disprove the prayer in public schools. What these ruling presented was that, to uphold the First Amendment’s claims, no official or unofficial sponsorship was to be connected with the prayer in any school in America. A. All US judicial system is based on the precedent B. If the past experience reveals that prayer was allowed in schools, why prohibit it now? d. The government is likely to benefit from the prayer in public schools A. Prayer is believed to reduce violence and aggression among kids B. By praying children may learn important traits of moral and just behavior 3. The counterargument is provided in order to illustrate the opposite vies on the subject. The paper provides opposite views to having prayer in public schools because it is essential to discuss two sides of the argument to make the topic clear and understandable. 4. Religion and government (this section offers an overview of the relationships between the state and religion from the historical and contemporary points of view) 5. Conclusion (based on the evidence provided in the paper, we conclude that prayer should be initiated in all public schools in the US) 6. Works Cited Introduction In the contemporary world of loss of morality, degrading of the school’s system, and lack of strong educational and moral principles among students, it is crucial to initiate prayer in public schools in order to form basis for pupils’ successful spirituality development. This paper argues for having prayer in public schools as based on the number of social and moral factors.
The discussion is centered on the subject of not promoting any particular religion in schools, but endorsing the readings of bible and introducing prayer in all public educational institutions throughout the country. "Public education in America...is destroying democracy in America," claimed Pat Robertson (The New World Order 216). This scholar argues that public schools are in the "stranglehold" of the National Education Association, which "is not interested in education, but in power and money" (Robertson, The turning tide 226). In his book The New World Order Robertson described what has brought about, in his mind, this "decadence" of today's public schools and society: The Supreme Court of the supposedly Christian United States guaranteed the moral collapse of this nation when it forbade children in the public schools to pray to the God of Jacob, to learn of His moral law or even view in their classrooms the heart of the law, the Ten Commandments, which children must obey for their own good or disobey at their peril. Some time earlier, Jerry Falwell wrote, "I am forced to believe that the decay of the public school system accelerated into a downward spiral when prayer and Bible reading were removed by the U.S. Supreme Court" (8). Ralph Reed proclaimed that "children are denied the right to pray in public schools" (41). President Ronald Reagan said in his February 5, 1986, State of the Union message that state had to give back to American children their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms. Senator Jesse Helms blamed the 1962 school prayer decision for bringing into public schools not only drugs but pornography, crime, and fornication, saying that a greater crime against American children could hardly be conceived. And despite the First Amendment, Jack Kemp, the 1996 Republican vice-presidential candidate, stated that the Ten Commandments should be posted in every school in America (qtd in Conn 5). Counterargument The first person to devise a plan for 3 years of free public supported education in America (for White children) was Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. It was not initially passed by the state legislature, but became the prototype for public education in other states, beginning with Massachusetts and Connecticut. Two important features of this plan were to teach the values of the newly formed republic and to be secular; that is, to be religiously neutral. Jefferson said that instead of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious inquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history. Furthermore, those appointed to oversee these schools should not be ministers of the gospel of any denomination. However, as the schools grew, they became decidedly Christian and Protestant. Until the 1962 and 1963 Supreme Court decisions, morning worship typically began with teacher or student-led prayer and Bible reading.
Believers look enviably back on those days when Protestantism predominated; or even farther back to colonial days in New England when Puritanism ruled and followers of other faiths, such as Baptists, Quakers, Catholics, and Jews, were banned from the colony or brutally persecuted. Children can pray any time, silently and voluntarily as the Bible recommends (Matt. 6:7), and the Bible may be studied academically in public schools. The Supreme Court ruled only that government-sponsored prayer and Bible-reading as religious exercises were a violation of the neutrality clause of the First Amendment. Despite the Ronald Reagan’s assertion that the Founding Fathers did not intend for government to be separated from religion, the wall of separation phrase has been used repeatedly by the courts as the basis for determining what is legal and illegal with regard to such things as school prayer, Bible reading, posting the Ten Commandments, singing religious music, and displaying Christian symbols during Christmas and Easter holidays in public schools. The Engel and Schempp rulings against state-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools, however, did not steal from children their right to acknowledge God, but merely reinforced the First Amendment's neutrality clause. These were religious exercises and thus constituted an establishment of religion, which violated the rights of children who came from families with different or no religious beliefs. Furthermore, Justice Tom Clark stated clearly in Abington v. Schempp that the Bible could and should be read in classrooms as part of students' academic education: It certainly may be said the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. (Abington v. Schempp 860) Although the wall concept has been the legal interpretation of the First Amendment for more than 200 years, a complete separation of religion and government is probably impossibility. Religion and government Martin Marty noted that religion is not confined to formal institutions, but is "increasingly diffused throughout the culture" (11). The problem for courts and public institutions, then, becomes how broadly is religion to be defined and "where does religion stop?" (21). The Court has also recognized that religion is such an integral part of society that it cannot be totally removed from state functions. Thus, in Lemon v. Kurtzman the "Lemon test" was created as a means of clarifying the issue. The Justices established three criteria to evaluate the legality of an activity in such places as public schools: • it must be secular in nature • it must neither advance nor prohibit religion • there must be no "excessive entanglement" of government and religion In the Engel v.
Vitale case, the Supreme Court found unconstitutional the New York Regents "nondenominational" prayer that was recommended to be said each morning in every public school in the state. The following year, in Abington v. Schempp, Bible reading as a morning exercise was also ruled a violation of the First Amendment's clause forbidding the establishment of a religion. The latter, however, implies that some confusion is unavoidable and acceptable. The questions for society and state-supported schools are: what kind and how much? Charles Haynes, a 1996 visiting scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University, advocated having academic studies on the Bible and world religions in public schools. The purpose would not be to promote any particular faith or to proselytize, but to expose students to the cultural and intellectual aspects of many religions. He believed that students who know how humankind has struggled with the great religious questions are not so vulnerable to the nonsense and dangerous ideas spouted by certain groups and movements. Agreeing with this idea is Warren Nord, director of the Program in the Humanities and Human Values at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of Religion and American Education. He argues that one of the most dangerous assumptions educators make is that we should teach our idea of truth. But being truly well-educated means knowing alternatives to your idea of truth. However, reading the Bible as part of a secular program of education, studying the doctrines and practices of world religions, and being confronted with other concepts of truth is to the worse than avoiding religion altogether, for this opens the door to biblical scholarship, historical and literary studies, archeological findings, comparisons with "pagan" religions, and various interpretations of scriptural passages. Contrary to the statements of official leaders, government schools are not antagonistic to religious beliefs, but must draw a line between an academic study of an important part of our culture and an unconstitutional preference of one faith over others, or of religion over non-belief. Thus, reading the Ten Commandments and comparing them with similar tenets in other religions would be a legitimate lesson; posting the Commandments in every classroom would be a promotion of the Judeo-Christian faith and a violation of the First Amendment. A discussion of religion is legal in any class where it is integral to the subject. For instance, many historical topics, from medievalism to Martin Luther to the Mayflower Compact, cannot be understood without investigating the religious underpinnings. Novels, short stories, and poetry are especially laden with religious elements, including biblical and other scriptural references from a variety of faiths.
In August 1995, the U.S. Department of Education disseminated to every school district in America a statement of principles concerning the extent to which religious expression and activity are permitted in public schools. Conclusion Nothing in the First Amendment converts the public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door. While the government may not use schools to coerce the consciences of public school students, or to convey official endorsement of religion, the public schools also may not discriminate against private religious expression during the school day. Thus, in addition to learning about religion in academic classes, students can practice their faith in a variety of ways that do not interfere with the rights of others. They can pray silently, read the Bible on their own time, request alternate books that are compatible with their beliefs, and express their religious convictions whenever it is appropriate for such discussions. Teachers, however, have a sometimes difficult task. They must walk a narrow path between promoting a common core of democratic values and those values that reflect only the beliefs of specific religious groups. They must determine what constitutes an academic study, what becomes indoctrination into a particular faith, what is discrimination against private religious expression or nonreligious belief, and what is a valid, even necessary, means of educating students in a democratic society.