Why the “Hip Cause” is Silly #1: “Prayer in School”

March 18, 2009


This thread of articles focuses on “hip God causes,” you know those slogans, campaigns and causes bandied about by folks that often stay ever-present, yet are noticeably cyclical as well. They tend to bubble to the surface periodically as the rallying cry for evangelicals and peripherally conservative Christians.

One that really befuddles me is “Prayer in School.” I say befuddle, because on so many levels I am confused when I hear the rallying cry over this cause. “Keep Prayer in schools!” or “Put God back in schools!” folks will shout.
My confusion arises for several reasons. One, what causes this to become the hip evangelical cause of the moment each time? Whatever the cause, it seems it has recently occurred again if online petitions, chain e-mails and the earnest hopes of semi-read scripture enthusiasts are a reliable sign.

Overwhelmingly what throws me the most, though, is wondering what exactly these folks want. I’m assuming they want statues of Jesus placed throughout all public schools, detailed and characterized exactly how they want him to look as well as full, led prayers throughout the school day, and classes interspersed with scripture reading. Well, if that’s what they want, there are private schools for that. Why they want it in a public school is completely beyond me.

The biggest point worth making here is–PRAYER CANNOT BE FORBIDDEN FROM ANY SCHOOL. Also, GOD IS STILL IN EVERY SCHOOL, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE. So what do these folks want, other than a stifling, constricting and ultimately faith harming, led and controlled, forced-upon belief system that will ultimately lead to faith rejection by many children simply out of anger they‘ll be apt to feel for being forced to embrace or acknowledge certain viewpoints.

Prayer is in school now. A student can pray at virtually any time during the day, silently and to themselves. Before class, during lunch, at assembly, or as a notable passage of scripture  called for, ceaselessly throughout the day (by the way they live and by constant faith dialogue in their minds). Want prayer that’s more than simply silent? There are very few schools in which children will be reprimanded for praying aloud before dinner at their cafeteria table with children who are voluntarily sitting with them and participating. Want a prayer or bible study group? Simply set up a VOLUNTARY after-school group to do that very thing.

So really, it’s baffling what more people want. Do they want teachers to lead students in specific Christian prayers, prayers veiled in the language and belief systems of each teachers’ specific interpretation and version of Christianity? So who decides the type of prayer and the type of language at play during such led sessions? I’m an Anglican, so my sort of prayers differ from what evangelicals, Catholics or Greek Orthodox Christians would pray. I’m a very liberal Anglican at that, so my private prayers differ from many of my fellow Anglicans in tone, expectation and method. As an Episcopal in America, I realize the public led prayers I engage in from the Book of Common Prayer will be common and known throughout the country in most Episcopal churches, yet each individual in a pew is apt to have their own interpretation, relation to and connection with what is being said as a group. Can such a view be held by elementary school children with no faith tradition or knowledge originating in their homes in regards to what these words may possibly mean to different people? Above and beyond this, what about Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews or atheist children?  Is it even remotely in the realm of fair or just that the beliefs of those children are trampled, ignored and berated, even if (perhaps especially if) they are a small minority in the otherwise “Christian“ classroom?    In short, it’s common sense that led, forced-participatory prayer can bring nothing but bad things. So, other than the acceptable and permitted types of prayer mentioned above and this bad idea, what else do the “put prayer back in school” crowd have in mind? I assume most teachers would get upset if a student stood up in the middle of class and began to loudly pray, interrupting the lesson. Does the Prayer-Power crowd want that, even though such, loud, showy, obnoxious “look at me” prayers were disparaged by even Jesus himself in scripture?

GOD IS IN ALL SCHOOLS,  as I mentioned, because God is in all, in everyone and present everywhere. God is above all and in all, external and internal, moving through and working through anyone that allows room. “Keep God in school” or “Put God back in school?” Huh? God is there already. Now, whether God is heard or followed is another question entirely, and entirely up to the individual. If parents and adults want God to thrive and move within the public school system they will teach their children to be just, peaceful, fair, tolerant, loving and compassionate. They will disparage violence, prejudice, ignorance and greed. They will teach their children the value of loving, forgiving, working to better the world and serving others. They will teach their children how to think, question, reason, evaluate, acknowledge and learn. Teachers in the schools will inspire their students to pursue truth, knowledge, education, fairness and progress.
Then God will thrive even more in the lives of students in public schools. But it starts at home, and it has nothing to do with institutionalizing a narrow and particular human crafted version of God, prayer and faith and then forcing others to accept that same version.

For those that hold and practice a sort of flat faith that is rooted in their own repetitive, unquestioning acceptance of the way they “have always done it,” those that are at the appointed place and time every Sunday, begrudgingly cut a check offering up their ten percent and have a very set and selective view of what constitutes a “moral issue” often latch onto these causes and shout for them in the honest thought that the country and the world will be a better place if changes are brought about to bring back “the good old days,” (which by the way, never existed in such an idyllic way). Yet real faith is much more than scrambling to hold onto the faith of your childhood with blind acceptance without probing it, questioning it and at times doubting it. Real faith brings its questions to the table and uses them to deepen the truth being sought. Real faith is unconcerned with superficial causes like “prayer in school,” and instead focuses on total transformation and positive global service, the type of mindset, actions and thoughts that seek to bring peace and compassion to the individual, to the society, to the country, to the world. That’s the Kingdom of God.

– Peace through Justice,


4 Responses to “Why the “Hip Cause” is Silly #1: “Prayer in School””

  1. Ben Maulis said

    Do you have kids in school?

  2. dmhamby2 said

    No, Mr. Maulis I do not have kids at all. I do have nieces, nephews , children of friends and children cousins in school. I have friends with children in the school system. I have friends who teach in the public school system. I myself was in the public school system not that long ago. Those on both sides of this issue have and do not have kids in the public school system. Of course, with all due respect, none of these factors have anything to do with knowing that forced faith and state sanctioned religious instruction are wrong and misguided. Common sense alone is enough to know that what makes someone a faithful, conscientious human being should begin at home and in the personal life and then proceed out from there through positive action. And once again, it doesn’t take much to know that silent and constant prayer is possible any and everywhere.

  3. dave said

    Good article. I agree. I teach, and I see the kids everyday. This sort of thing needs to be taught at home, which I think everyone would agree with. Most people don’t think about the practical consequences of “prayer back in school.” This is still America, and there are still judges who would rule in favor of families who have the right for their children to not be forcebly influenced by led prayer from another religion or denomination. Christians can still accomplish the goals of Christianity without “prayer in schools.”

  4. […] out for the return of prayer in public schools is a misunderstood and negative request  (see: https://dmhamby2.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/why-the-hip-cause-is-silly-1-prayer-in-school/   ). To briefly reiterate the main point of my argument, no one in this country can stop anyone […]

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