Insight Into School-Sanctioned Prayer

By Anthony | September 6th, 2006 | 12:35 am

In the recent conversations I’ve had about the West Virginia lawsuit involving the portrait of Jesus, as well as other discussions revolving around schools and religion, the opinion is often expressed that school prayer should be ok, and that school-sanctioned religious displays don’t harm anyone.

However, many people disagree with that sentiment, including some evangelical Christians. A letter last year to WorldNetDaily has one such evangelical speaking from his own experiences and making the case against school prayer. The man was living in Hawaii with his family, in a small town that was predominently Buddhist, where Christians were in the minority:

Because we worked in the youth department of our church and taught teenage Sunday School classes, we were anxious to be involved in the lives of the students we worked with. So we were quite excited to be able to attend our first football game at Wahiawa High School…

Coming from a fairly traditional Southern upbringing, I was not at all initially surprised when a voice came over the PA and asked everyone to rise for the invocation. I had been through this same ritual at many other high-school events and thought nothing of it, so to our feet my wife and I stood, bowed our heads, and prepared to partake of the prayer. But to our extreme dismay, the clergyman who took the microphone and began to pray was not a Protestant minister or a Catholic priest, but a Buddhist priest who proceeded to offer up prayers and intonations to god-head figures that our tradition held to be pagan.

We were frozen in shock and incredulity! What to do? To continue to stand and observe this prayer would represent a betrayal of our own faith and imply the honoring of a pagan deity that was anathema to our beliefs. To sit would be an act of extreme rudeness and disrespect in the eyes of our Japanese hosts and neighbors, who value above all other things deference and respect in their social interactions.

We often advocate the practice of Judeo-Christian rituals in America’s public schools by hiding behind the excuse that they are voluntary and any student who doesn’t wish to participate can simply remained seated and silent. Oh that this were true. But if I, as a mature adult, would be so confounded and uncomfortable when faced with the decision of observing and standing on my own religious principals or run the risk of offending the majority crowd, I can only imagine what thoughts and confusion must run through the head of the typical child or teenager, for whom peer acceptance is one of the highest ideals.

In his letter, the writer states that because of this, he stopped going to the high school football games. Students, however, won’t usually have the option of removing themselves from the situation.

(Hat tip: Pharyngula)

4 Responses to “Insight Into School-Sanctioned Prayer”

  1. Lex Says:

    So the scales have fallen from one pair of eyes. Only a bazillion to go.

  2. Roger Says:

    Excellent post Stew. Guess it takes walking in a man’s shoes for some people to see the logic of the argument.

  3. Joel Gillespie Says:

    Potato Stew,

    Though I am having trouble seeing the picture of Jesus as tantamount to a school sanctioned religious display, I as a conservative evangelical Christian do have problems with public school sanctioned prayer. First, these often become mere “moments of silence.” But that teaches kids to equate prayer with moments of silence. I don’t like that. Or, if it is a public prayer over a PA, then it is either so generic as to be not in content Christian or it is explicitly Christian, which is inappropriate for the non Christians. And then you have to deal with all the rolled eyes and sarcastic and snide comments of students and staff alike. So, in order to preserve the essential elements of Christian prayer, that is prayer offered to the Father through the Son, I’d rather the public school just stay out of the prayer business. The kids can pray as they wish, to the gods of their choice, and should be allowed to display symbols of their faith, and carry bibles, as teachers ought to be able to do so to an extent (teachers have civil rights too), but, bottom line, I don’t want the public school system teaching my kids about prayer.

  4. PotatoStew Says:

    Thanks for the comments guys!

    Joel:

    On the continuum of “ways a government might endorse a religion” I don’t think the picture is all that extreme, but I do think it crosses the line. As I alluded to in my earlier post on the subject, a lot of my feelings on this have to do with the school board’s comments and reactions to the controversy, particularly Mike Queen’s. Prayer definitely has the potential to cross the line in a more significant way.

    As for the rest of your comment, I think that’s a very sensible way of looking at things. A lot of other people would probably begin to feel that way as well the moment a school started advocating some method of prayer that went against their own beliefs.