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This article is in response to last week's "Prayer in School" opinion piece. All opinions are those of the individual authors.
by Anne Tenaglia
I confess- I am a believer in the Most High God. So it may come as a surprise that I do NOT approve of prayer in school. As a child, I went to Catholic school where we said prayers to bless the hour, prayers to begin the day, prayers at noon, and prayers before we went home. We said prayers for our parents, our teachers, our bishop, and our government leaders. We went to Mass on Sundays as well as holy days and first Fridays. In fact, we had 45 minutes more of school each day than the public schools so we could have our daily religion class. It got to be that praying became almost rote, something you say, not something you feel.
The person who taught me to really pray was my mother, who said that you should speak to God as if you are having a conversation. That you should pray to the saints that may have experienced what you were experiencing. That you should not pray for anything specific, but pray in praise and thanksgiving and for the outcome that would be the best. That has served me to this very day. My mother also taught me that people all over the world worshipped God, but they called him by different names – Allah, Buddha, Jehovah, Yahweh, etc. And I should not think less of a person because they were of a different faith, something my own religion didn’t tolerate. I pray daily, sometimes many times a day, by myself, in the comfort of my own home or car. I pray by singing hymns, a high form of prayer. Even Jesus himself warned against praying in public for showing off your faith just as the Pharisees did. That’s how I look at public prayer, as showing off, unless you are going to take into account all of the faiths in the world in your one prayer.
Thomas Jefferson made the use of bibles in his school mandatory because they were the chief source of reading at the time. It was the only book many people had in their homes and was a good way to practice reading. The fact that “from a penny to a $100 bill, ‘In God We Trust’ is clearly marked on every unit of U.S. Currency,” didn’t happen until 1938 when all US currency had to have the motto imprinted on it. It was originally stamped on coins in 1862 as a hope that God would be on the Union side in the Civil War. The phrase “In God We Trust” has meaning in Jewish, Hindu and Muslim religions as well as Christianity. So there would not be complaints from followers of those religions. I think, though, that followers of other religions or those who follow no religion may have an issue with it being sanctioned in the form of school prayer. Even the words “under God,” were not in the Pledge of Allegiance until the 1950’s when our nation was hit with the fear of those “godless Commies” behind the Iron Curtain.
As a primary source, look at a passage out of Jefferson’s Notes On the State of Virginia, written in 1782.
Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth... Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical law.
Jefferson was one of the first people to favor the separation of Church and State and was a staunch supporter of it. He was a Christian, but cut out those passages in the Bible that he disagreed with – anything concerning miracles and the Trinity, in which he did not even believe. He disagreed with much of the New Testament and thought that the book of Revelations was not divinely inspired in any way. His version of the bible, now called the Jefferson Bible, wasn’t even printed until after his death.
There are those who would dispute the commissioning of the Bible by Congress. See link here.
In short, while I believe most heartily in the Lord, I don’t think we can justify any one kind of public prayer in schools. Allow students to have a moment of silence, after the Pledge of Allegiance, which we still say, in which they can each pray in their own way to the Supreme Being of their choice. If you are going to allow Christian prayer in school then the next day should be Muslim prayer, and the next a Jewish prayer and the next day we should hear a Hindu prayer, etc. leaving room for the atheists and wiccans to have their chance at the mic also. If the occasion is a one-off football game or assembly, then the “blessing” should not be identifiable as coming from any one religion.
Religious prayer has a place and that is in your heart, not in your school or government.