You Can Pray and Discuss Religion

Recently I received a post on my Facebook page wanting me to sign an online petition asking lawmakers to…

“we the people of the united states of america would like to let our law makers know that we want our rights back to openly pray and speak our faiths of our god in our schools and to have conversation of faiths”

First of all I would suggest the author of this sentence learn how to capitalize and punctuate what they write. Secondly, I would suggest they learn something about what the Constitution and the various federal courts permit.

My entire career as a teacher of American History and Government took place after the Supreme Court ruled against prayer in the classroom and their ruling never once prohibited me, or any teacher, from discussing religions. The court’s various rulings also never prohibited the individual from praying at anytime they deemed fit.

In my classes we could, and did, often discuss the role religion played in various historical events in America’s history. We freely discussed the influences of the Protestant ethic, Puritan thought, religion in our culture, separation of church and state, the Scopes trial and the teaching of evolution, the original Engel v. Vitale decision that removed prayer from the public schools, and many more religiously based topics.

The Engel v. Vitale case did not ban religion from our public schools. Instead it banned schools, which are an agent of government, from officially endorsing one religion at the expense of another. It banned officially sponsored prayer, not personal or individual prayer. I as a social studies teacher could freely discuss all aspects of religion and even reveal my own personal views. My students were just as free to make their views known. What I could not do was proselytize or advocate one religion to be superior to another. The students could do so but I, as an agent of government and addressing a captive audience, could not.

Over the years the court’s decisions have been challenged many times and in almost every case the challenges have been rejected. The courts, conservative and liberal, have decided in favor of maintaining a distinct separation between church and state. But, that divide has been narrowed over the years. In today’s America school properties can be used by religious groups for various functions, religious schools are eligible for certain government financial assistance, and in some states the teaching of creationism has gained ground while the teaching of evolution continues to be attacked.

Based on my knowledge and my personal experiences the issue of God in the schools is emotionally based and qualifies as just another non-issue that has been trumped up for the cause of political positioning.

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