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Students have always been free to pray in school

My Opinion
Students have always been free to pray in school
Students have always been free to pray in school
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

Did President Trump return prayer to schools?

The Facebook post caught my eye: “President Trump Signs Bill Returning Prayer in Schools,” read the item in my news feed. It certainly piqued my curiosity. If there had been a change regarding this issue, surely the mainstream media would have covered it.

Several of my friends had liked the post, and some had shared it. I clicked on the item, which showed the president seated at his desk in the Oval Office, surrounded by all sorts of official looking types and students who appeared to be wearing private school uniforms.

The link was to a YouTube video and was posted by Eyes Open Media. I’d never heard of this company, so I had my suspicions concerning the post’s validity. The speaker, identified as Prophet John, starts off quite unprofessionally: “OK, we just got a new bill, uhhh, or Donald Trump signed something into law uhh, umm where you can pray in school again. And umm so prayer in school is no longer banned … ”

It was apparent this guy was no Lester Holt or David Muir.

Prophet John continued, lamenting why children haven’t been allowed to pray in school: “Umm, they want to pray and they can’t; it’s been rejected. As of today it’s no longer rejected as prayer is back in school.”

This is a perfect example of why we must consider sources and verify information when assessing news content. Don’t take everything at face value, folks.

I decided to turn to Snopes, a website dedicated to separating truth from fiction regarding “news.” Sure enough, they had a post about the topic, ultimately labeling the claim as “false.”

Trump released the prayer in schools document Jan. 16 stating it would counter “a growing totalitarian impulse on the far-left that seeks to punish, restrict, and even prohibit religious expression.”

We’ve all heard it over and over: public education in this country went south when “they” took prayer out of schools.

Prophet John expounded on this in his commentary: “Remember when schools were thriving in America because you were able to pray and there wasn’t no backlash and praying in school and things like that was encouraged … and schools were thriving because God was invited into schools, right?”

Wrong, Prophet John, wrong.

“ … All of a sudden we take God out of schools … schools start to deteriorate and schools start to be run down … Our children aren’t learning any longer.”

There are several incorrect statements in Prophet John’s reasoning.

First and foremost, “they” did not take prayer out of schools. This statement likely refers to the 1962 Supreme Court decision that barred schools and their employees in their official capacity from prescribing or requiring prayer.

Students have always had the freedom to pray in school.

“Students and student groups are free to pray at school, as well as participate in any number of religious activities so long as those activities don’t disrupt school functions or impede the liberties of others,” reads the Snopes account.

It’s that last phrase — impede the liberties of others — that really resonates with me.

If we reinstate school-sanctioned prayer, what religion’s prayers will we use? Many will answer “Christian,” making the case that the United States was founded on Christian principles.

Yes, it was.

However, the First Amendment to the Constitution prevents the government from making laws that regulate establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion. Remember, our forefathers fled England for America because of religious persecution. Public schools cannot promote one religion (Christian) over any other (Buddhism, etc.).

This is one of those polarizing topics that some people tend to go on about without being fully aware of the historical context.

More from Prophet John: “Donald Trump just put prayer back in schools … he’s reversing all the things Obama did and Joe Biden did and the liberals have done. He’s fighting against those things. He’s putting back those things that were once lost that made America great and prayer is one of ’em, OK?”

According to Snopes, Trump’s directive mirrored one issued by President George W. Bush in 2003. The only thing new in Trump’s directive is that it requires states to provide ways for filing complaints against schools when students believe their religious liberties have been violated.

Trump’s prayer announcement timing came just before School Choice Week (Jan. 26 to Feb. 1). Students in Indiana have many choices when in comes to education.

My husband and I chose private school for our children, wishing them to receive the same type of education we did. Yes, we absolutely wanted them to pray in school, and that is a big part of a parochial school setting.

Action by the Indiana Legislature means that private schools are now affordable — or completely free — for many families for whom it used to be out of reach. It is something to consider for those who wish for their children to take part in school-sanctioned prayer.

Another thing to consider is that religious training is first and foremost the parents’ responsibility. Even a Christian school will tell you they do not take the place of parents providing religious education in the home. I have to wonder how many people who want prayer returned to schools read the Bible at home? Pray before meals? Take their family to church regularly?

While we are all nostalgic for the past to some degree, I do not believe returning school-sanctioned prayer is going to impact academic performance. I would not put a lot of stock into Prophet John’s prediction for the future: “I think we’re gonna see a nice shift in schools. God is going to bless our schools. School systems are going to prosper now. Young boys and girls are going to be able to pray during class or lunch or walking through the hallways.”

As for schools prospering as a result of prayer, I can only believe God helps those who help themselves. A student who completes assignments and studies for tests — and asks God to help him do well — most likely will be happy with his performance. Prayer may have a little to do with the outcome but not a lot.

My prayer is this: That all Americans would educate themselves regarding the separation of church and state and why this is so cruciall that all parents would truly perform that important role to their very best of their ability and worry more about putting God first at home; and that we would acknowledge the religious freedom that has always allowed students to pray in school.

And, if Prophet John thinks there really is no prayer in public schools, I challenge him to visit any school on test day.

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