For many christians, putting prayer “back in schools” is the solution to many public, social, and political problems. Few have proposed a way to do that other than a few slapdash petitions and verbal barbs on social media like FaceBook and Twitter. The wait is now over. I am publishing this method on putting prayer in school in a blog. The complete method is below. However, please indulge me with a little backstory and my preface to the step-by-step method that may revolutionize how some approach getting prayer back into public school systems.
When I was a child we prayed in kindergarten and first grade. I found prayer in school strange because I never saw the need for some prayers. It was unusual to me because I had already prayed at breakfast before I arrived to school. We had a prayer at the start of the school day and we also prayed before lunch (“God is great. God is good.”). I found the lunch prayer equally strange because “good” never rightfully rhymed with “food” and we never used the phrase “in Jesus name” (as I had been taught) before saying “amen.” All my youthful wonder aside, this means that I had at least five periods of prayer in my school days (two prayers at school and three at home). I remember in second grade that prayer was “removed from school.” There was no fanfare, no fuss. The time in which we had prayer was now used for “a moment of silence or meditation” in which our teachers instructed us to think about our values, settle our minds, pray, center or focus our thoughts, or other things that were positive. I was never aghast that prayer was not practiced. I remember using that moment to pray. I also remember using that moment for daydreaming, too.
I never daydreamed because prayer was removed as an official practice. I daydreamed because of my character. That is also the same reason that I chose to pray. I didn’t pray because I had been disciplined in the routine established at school, either. I prayed because my family was a praying family. My immediate family was part of an extended family who also prayed. We all attended a congregation of believers who were a praying people. By the time I hit first grade, praying was just like brushing one’s teeth or putting on socks – it was natural, easy, and part of day-to-day living.
My parents didn’t make a big fuss that prayer was out of schools. Neither did our clergy.
Shouldn’t they have made a big deal, written letters, picketed, petitioned, and been up in arms that there would “be a decline in culture”, “problems in the schools”, “the country would go under”, and all the other arguments and vitriol that is commonly slung about by today’s Facebook and Twitter addicts?
My parents and clergy had no problem because they knew prayer actually never left public schools. That’s right – it never left!
You see, when there was no more “prayer in schools”, my five times of prayer a day went to, well, at least five times a day. It never increased or decreased unless I used the moment of silence for daydreaming. Prayer being removed from schools essentially meant that there was no more prayer led by public employees during time in which public funds (paid by no religious group and all religious groups) were being spent for education of children.
Preface to the Two-Step Method:
The removal of prayer led by public employee or paid for by the taxpayer is fair. It’s actually better than fair. It’s actually a better advantage for christianity than the constitutional law of no religious respect and no prohibition of practice would be. To accommodate the “prayer” practice of all different faiths would take a good deal of the school day while the respect of no religious prayer practice benefits the education of all students equally. Furthermore, all faiths would need to be represented, even if the student demographic didn’t represent all faiths, so that the practice is institutionalized and all faiths are proven “welcomed”, with no respect given to one over the other, in the eyes of the state as they truly should be. Finally, all students would need to adhere to any strict variation in practice (different phrases, variations on the concept of “God”, formalities such as facing Mecca, etc.) so that the practice in public school is fair and just, showing no respect and prohibiting none.
As fair and just as this may be, this isn’t actually what many christians want. They want their brand of prayer, their brand of faith, and their religious sensibility propagated as the solution to civil and public ails. It’s this mentality that may prevent the successful completion of both steps of the process. When christians proclaim “let’s put prayer back in schools”, they infer a few thoughts and assumptions that must be addressed before tackling the two-step method.
By saying “let’s put prayer back in our schools” some christians infer three things:
1. Some “christians” assume that prayer was taken out of school.
The assumption that prayer was removed schools is a smack across the face of all praying christians within schools as well as the parents and guardians of those who have modeled and taught the practice. It insults the congregations who have also modeled the practice and worked to provide a safe environment for the practice of prayer to flourish. It insults the students who are praying for learning and social interaction. It insults the teachers who pray to teach well and be able to earn a living. It insults administration who pray to do a good job, manage others well, and uphold strong education standards. It informs students, teachers, administrators, and the public of your mistrust and poor attitude toward their personal integrity. It perpetuates a lie that simply has little basis for productive discussion.
Prayer, just like any practice of faith and religion, is a choice. Just as I chose to daydream during the moment of silence in school, I also chose to pray. The prioritizing of prayer during these times is taught by family and church – not by public employee on taxpayer dollars and state education goals.
Prayer does not need to be led by a public employee for it to occur. This limits God’s plan for prayer and limits the freedom and power of prayer. It certainly doesn’t conform to most christians’ definition of who should pray. What if the employee is Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, or Transcendentalist? What prayer should be led? Christian prayer? Islamic prayer? Qawwali hamd? What shall we force one faith or another to do by enforcing one particular mode of prayer or another? What if the student is any of these varying faiths? Are not these freedoms of faith protected by public law? If they are protected by law, then christians should step out of the way, let the protection occur, and enjoy the protection.
A mindset of faith cannot be legislated. Schools try to legislate the standard of one form of arithmetic without complete success. Why would a christian expect that to be done with ALL faiths (as is fair) with the institution of the one religious practice of publicly lead prayer? Why would a christian marginalize another with whom they intend to “share the gospel” by forcing them to practice faith disagreeably?
Furthermore, when attempting to legislate faith, some christians often limit their willing audience and marginalize those who may hear their cause when they call names and cry “socialism”, “communism”, and “Hitler” when they think of prayer being removed. They should see that it was also attempted by far more powerful rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar (for those needing a biblical reference) and it didn’t work, either. Prayer can be legislated for any faith if one faith is favored in the eyes of the law. The issue then leads away from faith and onto the strength of brute coercion. Any christian will agree that prayer has never been brought about or sustained by such ill-contrived means. Most “christians”, though, wouldn’t mind this coercion by force as long as it’s their faith and not another that comes out on top.
2. Some “christians” assume that because prayer is out of schools, God is removed from schools.
Oh believer, tell me, where is it that God cannot be? Is He everywhere? Is He nowhere? Does He only grace the habitation of the righteous while shunning the haunts of the unbeliever?
God does not need christians to define or locate where He is. Saying that God is not in school is a terrible admission of lack of faith on the part of any christian. To say “God is not in our schools” is the same as saying “I do not believe in the power of my God enough to think he could be in schools.” For shame! The same God that is able to forgive sins and make the sun to rise and set is certainly able to be present in a school without your belief (see the book of Job for biblical reference). He is able to do so despite public or private recognition, the presence of christians, or the proclamation of prayer led by a public employee. The believer that professes such a statement says more about his/her faith rather than what he/she believes to be sound public policy. Remedy this lack of faith and the process of prayer in school will be brought about easily and efficiently.
3. The “christians” who assume prayer has been removed from schools are actually the ones who removed prayer from schools.
Here’s where you’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. Wasn’t prayer removed from public institutions by activists and atheists such as Madeleine Murray O’Hare and Christopher Hitchens? Not so! Maybe activists removed the time that public officials were made to lead students of all faiths (or no faith) in prayer, but christians who believe that prayer is not in schools must not be teaching their children to pray in school. Why else would there be such worry?
My children pray in school. They pray at home. We talk about prayer and we talk about praying in school. We talk about the times that have happened and that will come when they feel that they’re the only people in their class that pray to God. That’s how I know they pray. That’s how christians are taught to pray in Matthew, too. It’s not a public spectacle on the street corner, but rather a private affair that addresses one’s most personal needs. It’s an intimate conversation that a single creation has with its Creator.
That’s proof that prayer is still in public school (or at least in a few schools in our city). If those up in arms would do the same, there’d be no more need to clamor. This is perhaps the biggest assumption to realize and address before tackling the two-step method.
I know these three assumptions are pretty strong statements inferred by well-meaning christians who are simply “wanting to put prayer back in schools.” As strong as these statements are, they are equally as true. The problems of education, politics, or civil disobedience aren’t solved by the “prayer back in schools” mindset. This mindset exposes the frightened demeanor of the weak christian who’s bent on clamoring to prove some semblance of faith in the public eye. It exposes the ignorant state of a believer that would try to secure his/her own beliefs before others by unwittingly placing limits on an omnipresent and omniscient Deity. It exposes the apathetic faith of a believer who would imply that the cure to social ills is by hindering education with religious practice and by abdicating spiritual responsibility and guidance to public officials.
Still, there are those who would like to see children of all faiths led publicly in prayer by their teacher or administrator at school (whose faith has still yet to be determined or legislated). As promised, here’s a guide to get that accomplished quickly and efficiently:
A Guide To Put Prayer In Public Schools:
Teach your children to pray.
Repeat until children no longer attend school.
It won’t be done with a Facebook meme, a Twitter war, a public petition to the White House, or by griping about this or that president. Remember, this exposes your weakness, not the public’s, not God’s. At best, you alone look foolish. At worst, you and any others that may buy into this brand of fear-based “faith” will look foolish. If you don’t have children to teach, then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, sit with the sick, guard and care for the widows and the orphans. You will then have an eager audience and may learn a thing or two about prayer in the process.
If none of these ideas are suitable as process or solution, then I am open to other suggestions. As long as my faith isn’t legislated, I am free to say and explore the ideas I’ve proposed and accept ideas from those who agree or disagree. I can even take these concerns to my closet for prayer in my own time, my own language, and my own priority. When I do so, I will not limit the power of God by implying that “He’s not in this place or that place” or that one institution or another would be so much better if I legislated and coerced the practice of prayer.
If christians were successful at showing the love and mercy of God as He wants us to do, then there would be no need to legislate any law, let alone “prayer in schools.”