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Essay/Term paper: Prevent coercive prayer in public schools

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Prevent Coercive Prayer in Public Schools

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This amendment, commonly called the
Establishment Clause, forms the foundation of the right of every American to
practice their chosen religion freely and without the interference of the
government. In 1947, the Supreme Court issued a statement emphasizing the
separation of school and state based on this amendment. Students are entitled
to the right to express their religious beliefs in school, but it is
unconstitutional for the administration to endorse or discriminate against any
religion. Due to this interpretation, the practice of coercive prayer is
unconstitutional, and should be kept forever separated from this nation's
The purpose of public schools is to educate, not indoctrinate.
Schoolchildren are a captive audience. How could a second-, fourth-, or even
sixth-grader view the routine recital of prayers during the school day as a
voluntary action? This invasive practice would create unnecessary divisions
among children by making them unduly aware of their religious differences.
Public schools are for everyone, whether they are Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, or
Taoist. The practice of organized prayer in schools invades the student's right
to an education free of the discrimination which organized prayer would
Many people mistake the religious indifference of public schools for
hostility. Public schools must to be very careful to neither discriminate for
nor against any single religion, and people often incorrectly perceive the
schools' attitudes toward religion. The non-discrimination requirement may seem
wrong to many, but when religion has a home in public schools, it singles out
the students who disagree with the theology being taught. Prior to the Supreme
Court's decisions against school prayer, it was standard practice to put the
students who didn't agree with the theology being taught in places of detention
during Bible readings and prayers.
One argument in favor of the practice of school-organized prayer draws
its basis from the belief that students must be taught morals in school, and
that morals cannot be taught in the proper manner without the use of religion.
Proponents of this viewpoint believe that an ethical code cannot exist without
some higher power dictating it to mankind, because humans have not the self-
control to follow such a code unless there is a deity to distribute rewards to
the faithful and mete out punishments to the transgressors.
There are several obvious fallacies in this argument. The first is the
assumption that morals must be taught in public schools. Many people hold the
belief that it is the duty of the students' parents, and not the responsibility
of the school system, to teach the students matters of ethics. Another mistake
is to assume that a moral law cannot be taught without the use of religion.
There are many logical, non-religious reasons for following a moral code that is
acceptable to this society. If one does not agree to follow the morals of the
rest of the citizens of the U. S., one will quickly be incarcerated. The
American people are already under the power of an entity which wields immense
power and has the capacity to punish those who do not conform to society's
ideals: the federal government.
Often, debaters in favor of coercive prayer in school feel themselves
compelled to quote statistics and percentages, a practice which is not usually
useful to the debate in general because there is rarely any proof to link the
rampant rise of "sin" with the practice of school-endorsed prayer. "Since the
court outlawed prayerŠdivorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, and teen
suicide went up 300%Š abortion increased 1000%. There is a strong correlation
between the expulsion of prayer from our schools and the decline in morality."
(Geisler) The question one must ask is, "What do these things have to do with
the ban on coercive prayer?" The answer, of course, is, "Nothing." Anyone who
is convinced that there is a cause and effect relationship between the ban on
faculty endorsed prayer in school and an increase of activities considered by
many to be immoral must either have far greater insight than the foremost
rational thinkers of our time, or must consider the issue of whether or not
coercive prayer is being utilized in school as a matter of great personal
interest. The connection between the above practices and the ban of organized
prayer is dubious at best.
A third line of reasoning involves the fact that public schools in the
United States were originally organized by early settlers to teach children to
read and write with the intent to further the settlers' religion, and the fact
that the established system worked well for almost two hundred years. The
original intent of public schools is outdated now. During the early years of
public schooling, everyone who attended school shared the same beliefs. Today,
a myriad of different religious groups are represented in our nation's public
schools, and it would be a grave injustice to cater to one, only to risk
offending all those who have been excluded. Once an institution is outdated and
no longer contributing to society, it must be modified or eliminated.
Some argue that the First Amendment doesn't actually separate state and
religion, but encourages religion, and, in fact, implies nothing in terms of
separation of state and religion. "The second clause [of the first amendment]
insists that the government should do nothing to discourage religion. But
forbidding prayer in schools discourages religion" (Geisler) On the contrary,
forbidding prayer in schools does not discourage religion, but does prevent
offense and the alienation of students who have viewpoints which conflict with
the established religion. Each student has the constitutional right to worship
however the student wishes, even during school hours, so long as the student
doesn't disturb classmates and prevent themselves and other students from
completing their assigned work. Since the Supreme Court has specifically stated
that any form of coercive prayer is a breach of the rights of the student, the
solution seems to be obvious. The reason that many people who endorse coercive
prayer have problems with the Supreme Court ban is not that citizens feel that
their freedom of speech is under attack, but that their practice of forcing
their viewpoints upon others who profess different beliefs has been outlawed.
This practice itself is despicable in that, should the courts ever reverse their
interpretation of the First Amendment, it would threaten the very diversity of
beliefs which the United States of America has always maintained. Were Buddhist
schoolchildren forced to listen to the Lord's Prayer every morning, the school
would be undermining the children's parents' right to teach religion to their
children as the parents see fit. If, during the act of coercive prayer,
administrators isolated students who maintained beliefs different from those
practiced by the majority from their classmates, the administration would be
facilitating the opening of an emotional and social rift between the students of
different religious sects. This obviously runs contrary to the purpose of
public schools, whose function is not only to educate, but also to aid in social
development. The First Amendment states very plainly that Congress is not
allowed to make any law which involves the establishment of religion or
interferes with the right of the citizens of this country to freely practice the
religion of their choice. There is no question of ambiguity or vague wording in
the First Amendment.
After reviewing countless essays and manifestoes in favor of coercive
prayer in public schools, there has yet to be an indisputable argument based
entirely on established facts. The ranks of those who are in favor of the
practice seem to be mostly comprised of conservatives who see the Supreme Court'
s ban as a threat to their practice of evangelizing those of other religions in
order to swell their own ranks. Even though this country is based upon the
principle of majority rule, it is reassuring to see that the minority does have
a chance for justice. Even though the Supreme Court has set a precedent, there
will be many cases respecting coercive prayer brought before courts throughout
the country for as long as this country stands. Thus the public is urged to
militantly protect themselves from the act of organized school prayer. Keep
coercive prayer out of our public schools forever!


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