, Research Paper
To Pray or Not to Pray
“The trend of taking God and moral teaching out of schools is a diabolical scheme,” declared the Reverend Billy Graham soon after the Engel versus Vitale and
Schempp verdict (Haas 30). The debate over the separation of church and state had been swirling through courtrooms for years. The controversy over school prayer in the Engel versus Vitale case started over a prayer recited in the New York public school system, known as the Regent’s Prayer. A group of three parents found the prayer unfair to their children and decided to take their case to court. After hard work and tough battles the case came to the Supreme Court. On June 25, 1962 the court made the decision to ban prayer from public schools across the nation. Yet, the prayer is beneficial to help minimize juvenile delinquency, does not favor one religion, and revives America’s spiritual heritage.
“Something is terribly wrong with our education system. The evidence is everywhere: children who cannot read, graduates who cannot reason, danger in school yards, and indoctrination in classrooms,” (Free 1). Since the court outlawed prayer, the nation has been in a moral decline. Serious crimes in schools have risen to 3,000,000 a year, violent assaults have risen to 465,000, and the number of teachers attacked per year reaches 5,000 (Crisis). Taking prayer out of school has allowed immorality and violence to seep into the public school system. Teen pregnancy, school shootings, and drug use have become more prominent then any other time in our country’s history.
Teen pregnancy increased two hundred percent from 1960 to 1990 (Geisler 2). Without moral instruction and values teens are going out and getting pregnant without even thinking of the consequences. Children are having children. Some take the easy way out and have abortions, which are unfair to the innocent child at hand. Between 1960’s and 1990’s abortion has increased one thousand percent (2). There is a strong correlation between the expulsion of school prayer and the rise in teen pregnancies and abortions.
A study by the National School Safety Center reported school deaths have occurred in all but eleven states (Facts 1). Guns caused seventy-seven percent of all violent deaths in schools (1). Two hundred and thirty-five school-associated violent deaths occurred in the United States over the past eight years (1). One in twelve high school students is threatened or injured with a weapon each year
These numbers are outrageous. School children obviously aren’t being taught the difference between right and wrong. As Minister Kerry Hill says, “It seems like every time we have a school shooting or major incident involving a school, the first thing everybody wants to do is hold a prayer vigil. It seems to me that if you believe in the power of prayer post-disaster, you should believe in it pre-disaster,” (Reeves 3).
Drug use in teenagers has increased over the years. Teens have turned to drugs because of many reasons including lack of strong moral values and religious beliefs (Madigan 1). Jan Cook, a mother of four, believes that “when prayer was taken out of school guns started coming in.” More and more teens are getting pressured into taking drugs and without proper values they will continue to use them more often.
The New York public school system wanted to instill values into their students. They were merely using a right that had been used for centuries. They did not deliberately try to cause trouble. They set up certain standards for the prayer and made sure the prayer did not favor a certain religion. In fact most people favored it, it was virtually harmless, and without it the religion of secularism is established.
Among teen-age public school students, six in ten said they favor school prayer (Both 418). That is sixty-three percent of the students surveyed (418). Even in the New York public school district in which the prosecutor’s children attended only twenty-nine of the four thousand five hundred students asked to be excused from the prayer (Haas 39). Most people in America favor voluntary school prayer. “To forbid the majority the right to pray because the minority objects, is to impose the irreligion of the minority on the majority (Geisler 2).”
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us our parents, our teachers, and our country,” recited students in the New York public schools (Condon 255). This prayer, known as the regent’s prayer, or one quite similar had been said in schools all over the United States for years. The prayers were not for teaching religious beliefs but merely voluntary confessions of faith (Haas 38). Since the prayer was so short it could not have possibly caused any harm.
The regent’s prayer consists of twenty-two simple yet meaningful words. It required only thirty seconds to recite which was hardly enough time to mean a great deal to anyone (Haas 39). Therefore the prayer was a harmless act to nonbelievers and an important detail to those who believed. To take away the right to prayer was just like taking away a student’s religion.
“At no time did we ever insist that a child should say it,” argued William Vitale, Jr. (Haas 30). No child was ever forced to say the prayer. The school board set up mechanics so no one would be compelled to say it. Those students who wanted to use their right to free speech could say the prayer and those who felt they did not want to participate did not have to. Therefore the prayer was fair to everyone.
Forbidding prayer establishes the religion of secularism, which characteristically shows no belief in God, God-given morals, prayer, or the Judgment Day. The Supreme Court has affirmed that there are religions, such as “secular humanism”, which do not believe in God,” (Geisler 2). “Justice Potter feared that taking all religious beliefs and practices out of school lead to the “establishment of secularism,” (Bryce 26). By not allowing prayer and other religious expression the courts have favored the beliefs of secularism.
Prayer is an important part of America’s spiritual heritage. Removing prayer from school defied everything that our country was founded on. Prayer in school existed 200 years before the court ruled it unconstitutional (Geisler 2). Removing prayer shows unfair treatment, defies what the country was founded on, and challenges our right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The Supreme Court unjustly removed prayer from school. Outlawing prayer in school is inconsistent with allowing other religious exercises in government constitutions to continue (Haas 43). Permitting prayer in congress and religious phrases to be written on United States currency are both unmerited and unfair.
Congress has prayed at the opening of every session since the beginning. During the first Continental Congress Benjamin Franklin urged prayer saying:
“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered…and we now have forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayer imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service,” (Geisler 2).
Congress has begun with prayer ever since. If the government can pray in their sessions, why cannot the governed pray in their school sessions (Condon 50)?
“In God We Trust” is inscribed on almost all of America’s currency. These four simple words must be very important to be written on American money. Yet these words seem not be important enough to say in public schools. These two things are inconsistent with each other. It is unfair to have one without the other.
America’s founding fathers knew the importance of religion to America. They started this country with the belief in god. Our political documents have to do with trust in God and religious beliefs. Everything in our countries set up deals with some aspect of religion. Cardinal Spellman explains this when he says, “I am shocked and frightened that the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a simple and voluntary declaration of belief in God by public school children. The decision strikes at the very heart of the Godly tradition in which Americas children have so long been raised,” (Pfeffer 82). Early political documents and congressional actions both encouraged religion.
Our government was based on religious principles from the very beginning. The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights,” (Geisler 1). The Declaration of Independence speaks of God, creations, morals, the providence of God, and a final judgment day which are all religious teachings. Also the first Amendment does not separate God and government but actually encourages religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” (Geisler 1). It declares that the federal government cannot establish one religion for everyone. It does not say anything about separation of church and state. The second clause of the amendment insists that the government should do nothing to discourage religion (1). Yet forbidding prayer does discourage religion.
Earl congressional and presidential actions encouraged religion in public schools. For instance, the Northwest Treaty of 1787 and 1789 declared, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of learning shall forever be encouraged,” (Geisler 1). Thus religion seemed to be necessary. Presidents also made proclamations encouraging school prayer. For instance, President Washington proclaimed that the nation’s duty was to obey and acknowledge God and recommended that a day be set for public thanksgiving and prayer (1).
The constitution guarantees the right to free speech and religion. “They deny to every public school the right to suggest to any child that God is our creator and the Author of our liberties or to encourage any public expression of gratitude to him for those liberties regardless of the historical and constitutional tradition of this nation,” (Andryszewski 27). It is unfair to deny the right of free speech to students while allowing everyone else to enjoy their right. We clearly have a right to say what we want to say and choose our own religious values.
“Our society has become worse since 1962, we did not consider what kind of society we would have without prayer,” stated writer Gary Jefferson (Free 1). After the 1962 verdict the religious community turned into an uproar. Many bills have been brought forth in congress and although the majority is in favor of them they are not passed. For instance, Chairman Celler received 13,000 pieces of mail regarding a school prayer amendment (Haas 61). About 8,000 favored it and 5,000 opposed it and it sill was not passed (61). Prayer in school can lower crime rate, increase moral values, unite religions, and revive America’s rich spiritual heritage on which this country was proudly founded. So therefore there is no reason why prayer does not deserve another chance to prove that it can make a positive difference.