PRAYER IN SCHOOL

Prior to the 1960s, school-sponsored prayer was common and most people seemed to be okay with it. There were a couple of cases that showed some objection. One of those cases involved Catholics in Wisconsin. They were upset that Wisconsin Public Schools were reciting scriptures from the King James Version of the Bible. They took their frustrations all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and in 1890 the courts ruled in favor of Catholics.

In 1955 the New York Board of Regents came up with a prayer that was to be optional for students to recite. The board knew that they needed a secular reason to do such a thing and so they suggested it would combat juvenile delinquency and help to stop the spread of communism in the United States. It was a simple prayer:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”

A couple of parents in Long Island did not like this and they got together and took their complaints to the New York Civil Liberties Union. New York courts backed the Board of Regents and eventually the case went on to the United States Supreme Court. In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against the Board of Regents’ prayer. With this ruling, school-sponsored prayer was ruled unconstitutional, or unlawful. A year later in 1963 the Supreme Court  decided that reading the Bible corporately in public schools was also unconstitutional.

For most of our country’s existence the vast majority of the American public has favored school-sponsored prayer. The latest poll I found suggested that 65% of Americans are okay with this idea and support its reinstatement.

Several months ago the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma held an event at my church. Their keynote speaker for the evening service was a prominent pastor of a very large church in Texas. His message was focused on three events that would, and are, ultimately leading to the collapse of America. One of these events he noted was the abolishment of school-sponsored prayer in our public schools.

Now, this is absolutely absurd to me and almost laughable. Really? Telling teachers that they cannot lead students in prayer is going to help in bringing about the collapse of America? I do not believe there is any truth in that.

I was born in the year 1990. I never experienced teacher-led prayer. I never had a teacher lead the class in studying the scriptures. I did, however, pray over my lunches. I prayed in the morning before classes started. I prayed as I was walking through the halls of my school. I prayed for myself, for my peers, and for my teachers. The fact that someone was not leading me did not stop me from praying.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very traditional, conservative, evangelical Christian. Most would assume that I would be on this bandwagon to reinstate prayer in our public schools. And I would be, had prayer been banned. The fact is prayer was never banned in our public schools. The Supreme Court never said that our public school kids could not pray in school. The only people telling students that they cannot pray in school are those people who incorrectly believe, and proclaim, that the ruling in 1962 banned prayer in our public schools. This is false. The decision focused on teacher-led prayer. Public schools kids are just as free to pray in school today as they were prior to 1962.

I am convinced that when we talk in this doom and gloom manner because the Supreme Court banned teacher-led prayer, we are giving believers a crutch. We are giving them a reason and an excuse not to pray. Instead of reminding each other of the obstacles we face as believers, we should be reminding each other of how good our God is.We should be encouraging, not discouraging. We should be encouraging one another to step up and to lead. We should spend time with each other praying for those in our community. We should be pleading with God and asking Him to intervene in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. He is able, regardless of any Supreme Court ruling.

To end, I think the New York Board of Regents was on to something. I think their recommended prayer for students in the 1950s is just as appropriate for believers to be praying today as it was for them way back when.

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”

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