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Understanding the debate about school prayer in the united states

As a scholar who has studied school prayer this bill raises the ghosts of history.

Pros and Cons of Prayer in School

As far back as the early 19th century, Catholic students and other religious groups were sometimes whipped, beaten and worse, for not participating in prayer and Bible reading in the common schools, a predecessor to the public schools. One thing to bear in mind is that even if a law is found constitutional, the way it is applied in individual schools may be unconstitutional.

In two landmark judgments in 1962 and 1963the U. Supreme Court declared organized public school prayer to be unconstitutional.

A Debate on School Prayer Between an Expert and an Idiot

Some commentators have interpreted these decisions to mean that the court took prayer out of the public schools. But what the court said was that it is unconstitutional for public schools to promote prayer. Students can pray on their own or say grace before meals with friends and others, but they cannot impose prayer on others.

  • That is called democracy;
  • What the Constitution says about school prayer is absolutely nothing;
  • For almost two centuries nobody thought that school prayer was a constitutional question;
  • Knowing how divisive and costly such battles can be, it is not, in my view, a wise use of public funds or state power;
  • The best wording for the amendment will be the wording that best addresses the three concerns noted above.

Nor can the school itself. Discrimination against Catholics In the 1840s and throughout much of the 19th century, school prayer and Bible reading were used in an attempt to discriminate against Catholics and other religious groups.

There are examples of Catholic students being whipped and harassed and priests being tarred and feathered and ridden on rails, which involved parading someone around on a wooden rail.

50 years later, how school-prayer ruling changed America

Catholics were even killed when they refused to participate in prayer and Bible reading in the common schools. Much of this violence was about more than just prayer.

The Debate About a School Prayer Amendment Is Not About School Prayer

A lot of it was fostered by resistance to Irish immigration, anti-Catholicism and perceived job competition. Yet, school prayer and Bible reading issues often served as significant fuel for this anti-immigrant fire. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, school prayer was challenged in court by some citizens affected by it for violating state constitutions.

These early cases often found that state-mandated school prayer violated the constitution of the state in question.

School prayer and the Supreme Court

Supreme Court delivered two landmark judgments on school prayer. Justice John Welch, writing for the court, noted: Its laws are divine, and not human.

Its essential interests lie beyond the reach and range of human governments. United with government, religion never rises above the merest superstition; united with religion, government never rises above the merest despotism; and all history shows us that the more widely and completely they are separated, the better it is for both. Some Southern Baptists and evangelicals, for example, viewed public school prayer as an affront to God.

  1. The proposed constitutional amendment could be a help in turning the religion clause right side up. That, however, does not obviate the need for a school prayer amendment, which might better be called an educational democracy amendment.
  2. First, it is a necessary check upon the overreach of the imperial judiciary.
  3. One thing to bear in mind is that even if a law is found constitutional, the way it is applied in individual schools may be unconstitutional. The same law that prevents an establishment of Christianity as a national religion would also prevent an establishment of atheism.

Today, all taxpayers have to pay for school prayer laws when these laws are challenged in court. Knowing how divisive and costly such battles can be, it is not, in my view, a wise use of public funds or state power.

Perhaps the Kentucky legislature could benefit from knowing this history.