We live in a nation that says personal freedom is the fundamental and supreme value. There is no room for state-mandated prayer in a nation of citizens that greatly value their individuality. The nation we live in has no governmentally adopted religion or particular religious faith, this is because of the constitutional principle that the Supreme Court has maintained for many years, this “wall of separation between Church and State” that makes America a model of religious freedom.
Religion matters tremendously in the United States, a world torn by conflict over religious differences the United States is the most religiously diverse nation on Earth. Therefore we are not officially a Christian nation, which gives us the ability to actually live up to the First Amendment and have more religious liberty in this country. That diversity will be endangered, not enhanced, if an amendment is passed that would promote organized school prayer. A proposal like enforcing prayer in public schools will create the type of division that the framers of the Constitution were seeking to prevent when they adopted the First Amendment.
Children, who are required to attend school by law, should not be placed in the position of having to choose between pressures from their teachers, peers, and their parent’s instructions on religious practice. School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends a subliminal message to the students, of leaving some who are nonadherents feeling as though they are outsiders. The current United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment does not prohibit students from praying voluntarily in school. However, it does bar organized school sponsored prayer. This is the difference between the right to pray in school, which is an absolute right, and the right not to be coerced to pray. Texas Governor Rick Perry led an organized prayer at an East Texas middle school on October 18, 2001. At the end of his prayer he offered “in Jesus’ name,” and some students responded with “Amen.” This is a problem because the students were required to attend this assembly therefore this was an organized prayer that students who may be nonbelievers or even of other religions were forced to participate in.
The Governor took his personal perspective in consideration, “prayer life and a country that respects a higher being, our God, is a stronger country.” That is his belief and he took it upon himself to say that the majority of people in Texas believe the same thing. Has America along with the Governor forgotten about the rights of the minority? He overlooked the right not to be coerced to pray and the fact that not all Texans are going to be comfortable with the same prayer. Rick Perry is oppressing those that are of the Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religion, or nonbelievers by saying that we all pray to the same God, and those who don’t should just show benevolence. The Governor should know that the founders of our nation strongly believed that the government, whether on the national or local level, should not become involved in any way in religious activities, which is exactly what he did. It is just not possible to have organized prayer in school when the United States is the multicultural melting pot of the world.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, people in the nation should be called to prayer and students need a sanctuary. The sanctuary that students need can be found in the schools. Schools have students for at least 30 hours a week, which is more time than what the parents have in reality, and 30 times more than the church. More than any other institution in the world, the school has that unique opportunity with the next generation. The school is the school, an institution for learning, providing instruction and the church is the church, a clergy of a religious body. It is not the duty of the public school to teach religion or practice any majority religion. Parents are still the sole providers and teachers of morality for their children, and because students spend most of their time at public schools does not take away the duties that parents have to their children. Bringing a child up in a particular faith or teaching them the beliefs of a particular faith is a privilege and right of a parent. Wanting to bring religion to the children in public schools takes away that right and responsibility from parents. Most Americans do not want the government interfering in any of their most private affairs, one of them being religion. The public school that a parent’s child may be attending could be the very school that teaches a prayer that endorses beliefs that offend a parent.
There are concerns about a decline in moral values in the country and in the increase in violence on the streets and in America’s homes. William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, claims that the 1962 decision, Engel v. Vitale of banning official prayer from the public schools, is directly responsible for the national decline. The 1962 decision marked a rapid plunge in SAT scores, a high rise in the teenage pregnancy rate and many other social problems. However, these are misleading claims, the social problems are related to the increase in wealth and opportunity and education between the richest and poorest people in our society. It is obvious that the decline and social problem have clearly nothing to do with prayer in public schools. For it is very crucial that America remembers that the school or any other government body cannot substitute for our churches, synagogues, mosques, homes, or any other place of worship.
Prayer in the public schools will infringe on religious liberty rights, it will encourage divisiveness along religious lines in a public school setting, the minority religion will never prevail and their views will be effectively silenced. The nation’s founders believed that people should be free to pursue their own religious beliefs without government interference. Government endorsement of religion in a public school is a violation of the First Amendment and religious freedom should never be subjected to majority vote.
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