Official Prayer Would Turn Public Schools into Agents of Religion

By Stephen Chapman Copyright Creators Syndicate Inc. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 17, 1994 | Go to article overview

Official Prayer Would Turn Public Schools into Agents of Religion


Stephen Chapman Copyright Creators Syndicate Inc., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


When Laura moved to the Dallas suburb of Duncanville with her family at the age of 12 and enrolled in a public junior high school, she might have been forgiven for wondering if she had made a wrong turn and ended up in 17th-century Massachusetts, where the Puritans ruled unchallenged.

After winning a spot on the girls' basketball squad, she was dismayed to find that her coach incorporated prayer into games and practices. The team routinely recited the Lord's Prayer before and after each game, and it began every practice the same way. Players were expected to participate in the prayer during physical education class. No pep rally, award banquet or bus trip was complete without spoken communication with Jehovah.

Nor were these moments limited to athletic events. Devotional exercises, Laura's family discovered, were included in all regular school board meetings, graduation ceremonies, employee banquets, teacher orientation sessions and PTA meetings. The biblical account of creation was taught in history class. Bibles were given away to students on school grounds.

When Laura (not her real name) elected not to participate in the team prayers, the coach made her stand apart from the other players, in view of spectators, while they prayed. One teacher called her "a little atheist" during class. When her father complained about the religious atmosphere, an administrator replied that unless his grandparents were buried in the local cemetery, he should keep quiet.

Welcome to the gentle world of "voluntary" prayer, which may soon undergo a huge expansion. One possible consequence of the Republican takeover of Congress is the realization of an old conservative dream: turning public schools into agents of religion.

The GOP agenda includes a constitutional amendment to restore state-sponsored, teacher-led prayer to the classroom. The next speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is ready to lead the charge. The Supreme Court decisions banishing officially organized prayer from public schools, he said in a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, were "bad law, bad history and bad culture" and ought to be reversed.

As speaker, he said, he would hold hearings on school prayer in all 50 states in the first six months of the new Congress. "At the end of that time, after having a thorough national debate at re-establishing spiritual life and re-establishing our creator at the center of the American polity, we would, before the July 4 recess, have an up-or-down vote on such an amendment," Gingrich said. …

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