Apparently it’s ultra-super important for Christian kids to be able to pray at school but not so much for Muslim kids. We’ll get to that in a minute; first let’s make clear how the whole prayer in school thing works.
It’s not that kids can’t pray, no matter what the Religious Right tells you. They can. They just can’t do it with the support of the school, because that’s a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The “public school prayer myth,” fueled by Christian fundamentalism and embraced by Republican political theology, rears its head just about every day somewhere in the country even while regularly ordering graduation ceremonies to be held in churches. But that’s gist for another article.
It might be remembered that on June 17, 1963 Abington Township School District v. Schempp (consolidated with Murray v. Curlett), 374 U.S. 203 (1963) declared school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States to be unconstitutional. In 1962, Engel v. Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York school district was in violation of students’ First Amendment rights by requiring that they pray in the classroom to start their each school day.
Again, it did not ban school prayer or “kick god out of schools” as has been claimed by the Religious Right. As Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center writes, the ruling “requires that teachers and administrators neither promote nor denigrate religion — a commitment to state neutrality that protects the religious freedom of students of all faiths and no faith.”
But just as disagreeing with a fundamentalist is seen as persecution of that fundamentalist, so equality is seen as an attack on Christianity. The New York Times September 28, 1996, reports that one view is that “it was the Supreme Court decisions restricting school prayer and Bible reading in the classroom that truly ignited the religious right as the 1960-s began.”
And they have been making hay off it ever since.
So let’s look for a moment at reality rather than fundamentalist fantasy: Christian kids can pray, and if Christian kids can pray, so can Muslim kids, right?
Wrong, say those American Talibangelicals who would lead us around by our penises and vaginas.
Ya’ll remember the whole “special rights” thing for gays, right? Well, turns out letting Muslims pray in school is a case of special rights too. Cause if those poor Christian kids can’t pray, then damn if you’re gonna let those Mooslims!
Again, Christian kids can pray in school but reality is never the issue for Religious Right fear-mongering. Rick Perry even says he will put school prayer in the U.S. Constitution! Gingrich says he would do the same thing and even the supposedly anti-government interference Ron Paul says he supports a constitutional amendment that allows voluntary school prayer (it’s already legal, Ron).
This story takes us to the wilds of Pennsylvania, where, as the AU’s blog Wall of Separation reports,
In the West Shore School District near Harrisburg, Pa., some parents have been getting pretty angry that Muslim children might be allowed to pray during school hours – even though it hasn’t even been confirmed that any students are actually praying.
(Cue audible gasps and cries of dismay)
It turns out Bill O’Reilly is to blame for all this – sorta. As AU relates the tale,
The “controversy” apparently arose when a district parent was on WHP 580 with talk radio host Bob Durgin and claimed that a multicultural awareness training session at West Shore included a discussion of Muslim prayer in schools.
Durgin, a right-wing agitator and Bill O’Reilly wannabe, went on to do several shows on the topic, and apparently he touched a nerve with some listeners.
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that “one woman who called the newspaper said she thought Muslim students had received special privileges.” (Cue the “special rights song and dance”):
“It’s accommodating one religion in lieu of all the others,” she said.
Why? Because, she said, kids can’t sing religious songs at holiday concerts. Only problem is, they sang “Ave Maria.” You can’t get much more religious – from a Christian standpoint – than that. They also sang the Christian hymn “In Dulci Jubilo.”
Cue the inevitable Facebook diabribe. Says AU:
Another woman who posted about this issue on a Facebook page claimed students are “not even allowed to say God in school,” according to the Patriot-News. If that were true, it would violate federal guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education.
But as AU reports, this isn’t true: Leena Sharif, a Muslim freshman last year at Red Land High School in Lewisberry, “wanted to pray five times per day at set times in accordance with Muslim tradition.”
Leena asked if she could be excused from class to pray because she felt it would be a distraction to other students. A school guidance counselor told her she couldn’t.
Far from being granted “special rights” Leena Sharif had to withdraw from school to become a cyber student.
Of course, if Leena had been a Christian the Religious Right, supposedly all about our “religious freedoms” would have been all over this and her’s would be a household name. But she’s Muslim, so she was ignored and if a Muslim kid wants to pray, suddenly it’s a case of “special rights.” As AU says,
But when some students want to do the exact same thing the Right has advocated for, except those students pray to Allah instead of God, those same zealots throw a fit. That is pretty much the textbook definition of a hypocrite.
That’s the religious freedom defended by our fundamentalists: Christian rights to privileges not enjoyed by others – the very definition of special rights because only Christians have them.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.