School prayer is an intriguing debate in many circles. This sample argumentative essay discusses how some argue that school prayer is an endorsement of religion, while others maintain that school prayer is more innocuous.
The call to ban prayer from public schools
The founding fathers had the extensive knowledge and advanced experience required to understand that official national religions can cause significant problems for a society, including oppression, persecution, ignorance and violence. Thus, the founding fathers incorporated the separation of church and state into the first amendment of the constitution to maximize the country’s ability to exercise religious freedom, embrace diversity and ascertain knowledge.
Although many court rulings have determined that school prayer is unconstitutional, many public schools around the country continually attempt to integrate prayers into the routine of the school day. School prayer must be banned from public schools because the prayer sessions violate the first amendment of the constitution, discriminate against nonbelievers, and impair the quality of the education that the children receive.
Many supporters of school prayer argue that conducting school prayer sessions is a right that is protected by their constitutional freedom to exercise their religion. This is not true, for banning school prayer does not prevent an individual from praying or restrict individual students from believing what they want, from vocalizing their beliefs, or from praying on their own during the school day (Gaylor, 1995).
Although the children in the public school have the freedom to exercise their religion, other students have the freedom from being required or impelled to adhere to any particular religion. By requiring nonbelievers to participate in the school prayers or listen to the school prayers during valuable school time violates the religious freedom of the other students. Thus, while banning school prayer does not restrict the religious freedom of the individual students, allowing official prayers in public schools would violate the religious freedom of the students who worship other religions, who do not worship any religion, and who do not want to participate in a religious prayer session.
Supporters of school prayer
School prayer supporters also typically contend that enforcing school prayer sessions strengthens the morals of the students and decreases common problems that adolescents often experience, such as violence, pregnancy, crime, drug use, alcoholism and HIV transmission. However, this is also false, for religion is not at all directly related to morality. Christianity does not determine the level of one’s morality, and Christians have been responsible for excessive and immoral violence throughout human history, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, the German Nazi movement, and the murders of gay people or abortion clinic physicians.
Although the majority of Christians are moral people who do good things for others, some religious people and Christians have demonstrated immoral behavior by committing crimes against other people. Likewise, although there have been some atheists and secular thinkers who have committed immoral crimes, the vast majority of secular thinkers are moral people who refrain from harming others and who make efforts to help their fellow citizens (Diener, 1997). As a result, there is no close association or direct correlation between religion and morality, and thus the notion that religion promotes morality is false and cannot be used to justify school prayer.
Additionally, asserting that religious prayer is connected to morality sends the false and harmful message that people who do not worship Christianity and engage in school prayers are prone to immorality. Implying that nonbelievers are immoral can facilitate a hostile division in the classrooms, cause the students to develop a judgmental attitude towards members of other religions, and stigmatize atheists who do not subscribe to any religion.
There are many reasons why prayer sessions should be banned from public schools.
A primary legal reason that public policies should be implemented to ban school prayers is that the prayers directly violate the establishment clause in the 1st amendment of the constitution. Although every bill of rights amendment is important, the deliberate placement of the separation of church and state in the 1st amendment by the founding fathers demonstrates the importance of religious freedom. In the 1st amendment, the government provides every citizen with the complete freedom to exercise their particular religion.
However, to solidify the freedom of religion and of secular attitudes, the establishment clause specifically prohibits the government from establishing laws or policies that demonstrate favorability towards one particular religion, establish one religion as official and superior, or mandate the customs, rituals or laws of one religion. Thus, a public institution that is funded by the government and that in turn represents the government is forbidden from establishing or endorsing one particular religion as the official or superior religion of the institution (Prayer in the Public Schools).
Because public schools receive significant funds from the government and are considered public institutions, conducting school prayer sessions that often express a Christian preference would represent the government demonstrating a favored religion and would violate the 1st amendment. Thus, public policies banning school prayer should be implemented because school prayer is an illegal and unconstitutional violation of the establishment clause in the US constitution.
Policies should also be formed to prohibit school prayer from public schools because the prayer sessions would be discriminatory to non-Christian students and would diminish the atmosphere of religious freedom within the school. Many different religions and different concepts of God have been developed by human cultures, and including all of the local deities of Hindu communities and indigenous tribes, there are literally millions of different religious attitudes and concepts of God in the world.
A benefit of America is that the diverse ethnic backgrounds of our citizens and the religious freedom guaranteed in our constitution have enabled a diverse multitude of different religions and secular thinkers to coexist in one nation. Although the primary religions that are represented include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, reports indicate that there are over 1,200 organized and distinct religious groups in America, with many of these groups worshipping Gods that differ from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Additionally, over 10 percent of US citizens are atheists or secular thinkers (Loconte, 1995). As a result, classrooms are often replete with students who are from diverse ethnic backgrounds and who have very different religious attitudes, and it is discriminatory for a public school to favor one religion as superior.
A Christian practice?
However, a significant problem of school prayer in public schools is that most prayers relate to the Christian religion and often refer to the Christian concept of God. By allowing prayer sessions that establish Christianity as superior to other religions and to secular thought, school prayers discriminate against the members of other religions and exclude against atheists (Gaylor, 1995).
Additionally, implementing Christian prayer sessions that nonbelievers must participate in or silently listen to creates a division within the school that can alienate many students, facilitate an intolerant stigmatization of other religions, and encourage a judgmental ostracizing of secular thinkers. Thus, policies should ban prayers from public schools because the prayers endorse Christianity as the official religion, discriminate against nonbelievers, and diminish the atmosphere of religious freedom and religious diversity that should permeate through the school.
Prayer has negative effects on education
Another significant reason for banning prayer in public schools is that providing a religious and dominantly Christian atmosphere in the schools impairs the quality of the education that the students receive. Public schools serve the important function of educating our children to enhance their knowledge, strengthen their minds, and prepare them to develop great ideas and become excellent workers.
Although families and churches can teach religious doctrine, many Supreme Court decisions have determined that it is unconstitutional for a public school to teach that one particular religion is correct or that the myths of a religion are literal (Robinson). However, advocating Christian prayers in government-funded public schools promotes the notion that Christianity is the correct religion and that the Bible is literal. Although the Supreme Court decisions have maintained that Government-funded schools are permitted to teach information about religions, including the history, customs and beliefs of various religions, public schools are not permitted to treat Christianity as the one true religion or to interpret the bible as literal. This is a dramatic problem because Christian literalist values often interfere with the ability of teachers to effectively teach many topics.
For instance, many Christian organizations attempt to limit the types of knowledge students receive and attempt to obstruct the teaching of any information that contradicts or refutes the literal accuracy of the bible. Groups that have recently attempted to prohibit controversial topics from being discussed in public schools include Focus on the Family, the Censor the Book Organization and many rural school districts (Bentley).
As a result, many Christian organizations and religious communities have attempted to inhibit the teaching of important scientific concepts, including the big bang theory and evolution. It is important that public schools teach valuable scientific information, for scientific knowledge enhances the students’ understanding of how the universe operates, strengthens their reasoning skills, and encourages the students to also join and contribute to the endeavors of the scientific community.
Some Christian organizations also oppose the teaching of certain revered works of art and books for being offensive to the values of Christianity. These organizations and communities often campaign for the removal of books from the curricula and from the library, which has lead some schools to ban books that feature sexuality, challenge religion, express controversial ideologies, or contain other characteristics that Christian leaders perceive as immoral (Bentley).
Learning about art and literature with uninhibited freedom is crucial for every student, for knowledge of art expands the students’ perspective of the world, strengthens their imaginative abilities and equips them with the advanced mental faculties required to create great ideas. However, perpetuating a religious and Christian atmosphere through the school can obstruct the ability of the instructors to teach valuable works of art and beneficial pieces of literature.
Impairing the ability to teach facts over beliefs
Endorsing Christianity as a true religion by implementing school prayers also impairs the ability of the school to effectively teach history. Many Christians wrongly assert that the Bible is literal, that the earth is only around 9,000 years old, and that the world began with the Adam and Eve Genesis story. However, overwhelmingly compelling evidence derived from many different scientific research studies indicate that the earth is 4.6 billion years old and that the universe is about 14 billion years old. As a result, many historical lessons about the world and about our species contradict the possibility of the Old Testament being literal, and some Christian organizations and religious communities tend to protest these history lessons as well (Robinson). Thus, establishing Christianity as the official or superior school religion can make it very difficult and challenging for instructors to teach lessons regarding the history of the universe, the planet and our species.
The presence of diverse religions and the freedom for people to worship or not worship according to their desires is a tremendous benefit for our society, for this diversity enabled our society to enhance our perspectives of the world, develop innovative ideas, and achieve many accomplishments to create a prosperous society. However, to ensure that everyone has the freedom to exercise their religious or secular beliefs, our society must preserve the separation of church and state in the constitution by preventing the government from establishing one religion as a favored, superior or official religion. Thus, public policies should be developed and implemented to ban prayer sessions in public schools, for the prayers violate the establishment clause of the first amendment in the constitution, discriminate against atheists and students belonging to other religions, and provide a religious atmosphere that impairs the quality of the education that the children obtain.
Bentley, Erinn . “Banned Books.” Columbus State University. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. .
Diener, Paul . Religion and morality: an introduction. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997. Print.
Gaylor, Annie . “The Case Against School Prayer.” Freedom From Religion Foundation. N.p., 15 July 1995. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. .
Loconte, Joe. “Lead Us Not Into Temptation : There are theological reasons why school prayer is a bad idea..” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 14 Feb. 1995. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. .
“Prayer in the Public Schools.” UMKC School of Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. .
Robinson, B.A. . “Teaching about religion vs. teaching religion as truth1.” Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. .