Religion is an organized collection of beliefs based on rituals and veneration of a deity through sacrifices, funerary services, and prayer. For people possessing the ability to reason, the idea of religion contributing to a person’s facility to learn and retain fact-based information is about as absurd as the notion the Universe is 6,000 years old. Since religion is not based on evidentiary science or empirical data and founded on mere belief in mythology, it is not worthy of inclusion, in any form, in a public school setting where educating students based on facts is the goal. Of all aspects of religion that do not belong in the public school system, seeking a rapport with a deity through direct communication through prayer not only has no place in public learning environments, it is an affront to the concept of education; particularly in taxpayer funded public schools.
Religious advocates have long-sought to include mandated prayers in public schools since Republican man-god Ronald Reagan ushered in a generation of religious extremists bent on interfering in all aspects of government and Americans’ lives. Although the Supreme Court held that teacher-led prayer constitutes a government endorsement of religion and violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, South Carolina is reviving a year-old attempt to require mandatory teacher-led prayers in public schools. The mostly Democratic-sponsored bill, H. 3526, was first introduced in February 2012 and required teachers to lead prayer time at the beginning of each school day with the teacher delivering a prayer of their choosing. The bill granted students who objected to being subjected to prayer as part of their education permission to leave the classroom, but anyone remotely knowledgeable of school settings or young children are aware that few, if any, impressionable young children would dare draw attention to themselves and sit out “mandated prayer time.”
As the new year is getting underway, there is a renewed push to force prayer into South Carolina public schools after the bill languished in the Judiciary committee due to its mandated teacher-directed prayers being ruled unconstitutional by the High Court. The bill’s sponsors, mainly Democrats, made adjustments to the legislation and said they were willing to compromise on that one sticking point and allow “the students to pray to whomever they want to. If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer that would be fine with us. The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school. The teacher would conduct it to let the students know we would have a moment of prayer. That person can pray to whomever they please.” The legislators were also gracious enough to allow an atheist child who does not need direct communication with a deity to succeed in school leave the room; to isolate them and single them out as “not one of us” deity-fearing real Americans. In America, they should be fortunate the mandated prayer-time is not relegated to teacher-directed summoning of “the lord” evangelical-style, but that will come soon enough.
Apparently it was a kind gesture on the part of Democrats and Republicans to give young students permission to pray to whichever deity they chose, and that they were willing to “compromise” and adhere to the 1st Amendment and not require a teacher to lead the Christian prayer of their choosing. However, since South Carolina ranks 41st in the nation for students graduating from high school, the pressing question from an educational standpoint is why is there this driving need to “put prayer back in school” instead of focusing on educational outcomes? One would think that mandating each child come to school prepared to learn, including properly nourished, and that parents were equipped to help their children study would be the state’s primary educational focus, but then educational outcomes do not garner votes like “putting prayer back in school;” especially in the South.
An educator would likely ask pertinent academic performance questions such as will mandated prayer help a student better understand scientific theory, the periodic table, or why the Earth is over 6,000 years old. They would also ask for empirical data showing that mandated prayer will help younger students have better number sense, memorize multiplication facts, or learn how to use variables in mathematics to learn which state has the best educational outcomes. Mandating students to pray with their peers will not help them learn or retain important facts about world history, or remember the three branches of government so they could relay the information to their parents to prevent them from failing the next survey checking civic literacy rates. The point is that opening a line of communication with a deity is no substitute for paying attention during a lesson, taking notes, or asking questions to gain a better understanding of curriculum that is necessary to graduate from high school, but that is not the legislators’ point. As the legislators said, the essential part of the bill is putting prayer in schools; not advancing a student’s ability to learn and that alone is reason enough to keep prayer out of public schools and dangerous legislation like H. 3526 off the books.
The real travesty is that with religious fundamentalists abridging the 1st Amendment’s Separation and Establishment Clause with increased regularity with assistance by religious activist judges, the insertion of prayer in public schools by legislative mandate is further proof Dominionism is making headway toward a transforming America into a theocracy. It is irrelevant what kind of prayers are mandated in schools, or whether or not teachers lead students in direct communications with a deity, or that non-religious children are sent out of the room to portray them as “not one of us;” religion has no place in the public schools. That South Carolina Democrats are leading the charge to put religion in the state’s public schools informs that religious extremism knows no bounds and that Democrats will sink to Republican levels and pander to the religious right for electoral favor.
The danger of allowing religion into the public schools is that once prayer is mandated, it will be a brief matter of time before a zealot legislator attaches an amendment to a piece of legislation regarding motorcycle helmets that requires teachers to conduct Christian prayers and revokes parental permission exempting their child from a teacher-directed, religious-right approved supplication to god. If Americans have learned anything about the religious right over the past ten years, it is that their only goal in life is transforming America into a Christian nation ruled by Christian extremists and giving them a foothold in the public school system is an epic error.
Children go to school to learn verifiable fact-based knowledge and not to start their school day with a prayer to “whomever they want to pray” by legislative mandate. Children can pray at home, church, before school, before eating their lunch at school, and even while they are at recess or during play time, but there is no reasonable excuse, or justification, for mandating they spend even one minute of class time in direct communication with a deity whether of their choosing or not. The disgusting aspect of the South Carolina “prayer time law” is that a Democrat openly asserted the legislation has nothing to do with helping students acquire and retain knowledge, but is essential and important to “put prayer back in school;” the one place it does not belong.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.