Religion in Public Schools

Religion in Public Schools


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof......? according to the First Amendment of
the Constitution. This idea of freedom of religion has been stated very
clearly, but it also raises questions about the meaning of religious freedom .
Should religious expression be excluded from all government activities? Has
separation of church and state been violated by the U.S. Treasury? For example,
on the back of every U.S. coin are the words, ?In God We Trust?. And what
about when they swear-in government offficials with a Bible? Why not use the
Torah or the Koran?

Is it separation of church and state when Congress opens each session
with a Christian prayer? The following prayer was recited at the start of the
November 30, 1994 session:

We pray, O God, for the bread for the sustenance of
our bodies and spiritual food for the nourishment of
our souls. In a world where much seems to be
discouraging and where problems appear at every corner,
we pray that the human spirit will not be taught
by cynicism or despair, but rejoice in the
possibilities of every new day and accept all
Your blessings with thanksgiving. Amen.

For some people in the Congress this raises serious questions about when
prayer is or is not appropriate. One of the Representatives from Oklahoma made
this comment in the Congressional Digest on November 30, 1994: ? It was fine
for Rev. James David Ford to offer this prayer, yet it is a prayer our children
our not allowed to say in school?.
Since no amendment has been made allowing or prohibiting prayer, many
schools have gone ahead and recited verses from the bible and allowed prayer in
class. Another area of controversy has been the presence of religious symbols
on the school grounds. Schools such as the one in Livingston have gone to
court over the wearing or carrying of objects such as the Sikh?s kirpans. All
these examples point to the fact that there are severe disagreements on the
subject of religion in the schools.

Religion in public schools has been around many years. In fact,
it started in the colonial period of United States history when the schools were
thought to be an arm of the church; therefore, their curriculum contained
religion. Of course, their schools didn?t have many or probably any Muslims or
Jews, but how does that differ from a small country town in Oklahoma where the
population is completely of the Christian faith? Does this mean that the
school cannot practice the religion in which the complete population is
Christian? Aren?t these students being denied their religious rights? These
questions may be asked by many.

Government has a lot to do with the debate. Many Supreme Court rulings
have made laws allowing or prohibiting the act of praying in schools in the
past eighty years. The first one was in 1914 when the ?Gary Plan? was
inaugurated in Gary,Indiana.The document stated that with the consent of parents,
students would be released from school to attend places to worship. That was
followed in 1940 when the Gary Plan was extended to Champaign, Illinois. It was
struck down by the Court in "McCollum v. Board of Education" in 1948. Another
important decision was the Engel v. Vitale case in 1962 which said that it was
unconsitutional for there to be recitation in public schools even though it was
non-denominational. The Supreme Court has also ruled against posting the Ten
Commandments in public school classroomsin 1978. Since the l980?s the Supreme
Court has allowed religious groups to use university facilities for
extracurricular meetings (1981) and in 1984 Congress enacted the Equal Access
Act which means that religious groups as well as non-religious groups can have
access to school premises during noninstructional time.

The idea to add an amendment to the Constitution has brought a lot of
attention to the issue of religion in school. The people in favor of the
amendment probably don't like the way the Supreme Court ruled when it said in
"Wallace v. Jaffree" that it was unconstitutional to provide for a minute of
silence because it endorsed State prayer activities.

There are two views about this controversy. Those who are for an
amendment in the Constitution to allow prayer in schools believe that the
majority of Americans want prayers in school. A Readers Digest from 1993
showed that in a poll, 75% of the United States strongly favored prayer in the
public schools and wished to restore it. Meet the people I call the "Pro's".
"Pros" feel that prayer in public schools will restore positive values in kids.
In a world where Senator Jesse Helms