Anti-School Prayer Position

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Last Updated By Bill's Bible Basics :
February 16, 2017

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Over fifty years of Supreme Court jurisprudence has maintained a "wall of separation between Church and State" based on the principles that public schools may not take sides in matters of religion and may not endorse a particular religious perspective or any religion at all. Opponents of a school prayer amendment believe its passage would breach the Church-State wall and diminish religious liberty in this country. Below are some of the most frequently heard arguments against state-sponsored prayer and responses to arguments by school prayer proponents.

(1) State-Sponsored School Prayer is Unconstitutional

Opponents of a school prayer amendment contend that officially sponsored prayer in public schools undermines the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment. According to their interpretation, the Establishment Clause proscribes the establishment of religion in general; including religious practices. Since prayer is a religious exercise, state-supported prayer amounts to the establishment of a religious practice and is therefore unconstitutional. Additionally, they believe state-sponsored prayer violates the Free Exercise Clause by exposing students to prayer against their will or forcing them to absent themselves to avoid hearing prayers.

(2) Prayer in School is Already Legal

Contrary to the assertions of school prayer advocates, those opposed to organized school prayer maintain that public schools are not hostile to students' religious expression. The First Amendment guarantees every child the right to pray in school on a voluntary basis. Most religious activity is permitted in public schools, as long as the state plays no role in organizing it, and it does not disrupt the educational mission of the school.

(3) State-Sponsored Prayer Will Lead to Religious Intolerance

Many opponents to a school prayer amendment believe that promoting organized school prayer will endanger religious diversity and breed intolerance. Students of minority religions may feel left out or uncomfortable praying with students of different beliefs. Others may feel pressure to participate or face the disdain of the teachers and peers. Although some school prayer lobbyists have proposed non-denominational prayers, opponents believe it is impossible to compose a prayer that will reflect the religious beliefs of all students. Even non-sectarian prayer infringes upon students who follow no religion.

(4) Moral Decline and School Prayer are Unrelated

Contrary to the assumptions of school prayer supporters, opponents of organized school prayer find no evidence that prayer will improve morality or challenge students to lead ethical lives. Separationists generally attribute the country's social problems to poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity; issues which they believe should be addressed by serious analysis and sufficient resources, not by classroom prayers. In response to the presumption that the removal of organized prayers from public schools in the 1960s spurred the country's moral decline, opponents are quick to point out that school prayer coexisted with the Jim Crow laws of the South, the official discrimination against women in education and employment, and the discrimination against minorities in political, cultural, and social institutions

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