By: Shedwin Eliassin / Contributing Writer
Prayer in schools has not always been such a controversial topic. In fact, public schools had prayer for nearly 200 years before the Supreme Court ruled that state mandated class prayers were unconstitutional in the landmark case of Engle vs. Vital in June 1962. Religion aside, prayer should be implemented in schools simply because it has useful benefits on its own.
Our school systems aren’t doing any better since the removal of prayer in schools. In fact, some may say that the situation has gotten much worse, especially in terms of school violence. In 2007, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 5.9 percent of students carry weapons to school with them, 7.8 percent have been threatened or injured on campuses nationwide and 12.4 percent of students have been in a physical fight on school grounds at least once. The most recent studies have found that 5.3 percent of students do not go to school because they do not feel safe.
Since the court outlawed prayer, the nation has been in steady moral decline. Former Secretary of Education, William Bennet, revealed in his cultural indexes that between 1960 and 1990 divorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200 percent, teen suicide increased 300 percent, violent crime went up 500 percent and he maintains that there is a strong correlation between the expulsion of prayer from our schools and decline in morality.
It should be made clear that prayer has positive psychological, physical and emotional influences. Focusing on your emotions by praying can help relieve stress, calm fears and reduce anxiety. When cardiologist Randolph Byrd, did his famous study on the effects of prayer in April 1982 through May 1983, he found that praying on a regular basis can have an enormous effect on the psyche of an individual by stabilizing their mood, giving them a feeling of well-being, improving how they interact with others and positively changing the way they conduct themselves. When it comes to children and how they behave in school, prayer and all these positive effects that it holds can have enormous constructive effects on their outlook and those around them.
The establishment clause is a popular rebuttal for those who are against prayer in schools. It is the first of several pronouncements in the Constitution and it states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. When the families of New Hyde Park, New York, complained that the voluntary prayer in schools went against their religious beliefs, the prayer in question went as follows: “Almighty God we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings on our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.” They were most concern with who the God was that the children were praying to, who was never specified, nor was any distinction of religion ever made.
It is a paradox for the same government who has its grounds on religious principals from the very beginning to uphold prayer as being “unconstitutional.” The original purpose of the clause was to ensure that the government should not declare a state religion. If this is the case there should be no harm in leaving the decision to pray up to local districts rather than deeming it against the nature of the nation
Having prayer in schools could boost the morality seen in the classroom.
Proponents of having prayer in schools say that its removal in the 1960s was a trigger that may have caused SAT scores to drop, teenage suicide rates to increase, and divorce rates to rise since there is no longer a public acknowledgment of God’s existence in the classroom. When people are not given the option to pray, then there is a severe threat of spiritual decline that enters our communities. The individuals in charge of teaching children already have the responsibility to offer balanced learning options. How can they do so if they are forbidden from teaching prayer, but they can also decide to show students ideas like evolution while promoting personal perspectives on life?
▪️ It gives students an opportunity to come together.
When students are of the same faith, then having prayer in schools gives them an opportunity to come together in the spirit of unity. This advantage applies to those who have a different spiritual perspective as well. Although critics would point out that this action excludes non-religious people, there is power in prayer to bring people together in ways that go beyond what anyone can expect.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower even offered what could be considered a short encouragement for prayer in the 1940s on the eve of D-Day. “Good luck!” he wrote in conclusion. “And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Having prayer in school isn’t about forcing compliance. It is a simple acknowledgment that there is a desire to seek blessings in this life that may fall outside of human perception.
▪️ Prayer is more of a personal expression than a religious requirement.
Prayer is an action that is just like a song, speech, or mantra of positive affirmation that public schools would likely allow from an organized standpoint. Bringing it back to schools would allow each student to openly or privately pray when they feel the need to do so. Some would take this opportunity to convey their love of God to other people, while others might use this option to focus, prepare for a test, or manage a negative emotional response to a situation they encountered during the day.
▪️It would allow students to receive exposure to other religions.
Although there are some supporters of prayer in schools that are adamant about it only including Christian beliefs, modern America does welcome all religions and faiths with open arms into its society. You can practice Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or any other religion because it is part of who you are. If we were to allow prayer in schools, then everyone would have the right to practice their faith in a way that best suits the needs of their faith. This would help today’s children become more aware of different cultures in personal ways that may not occur otherwise in society.
▪️Having prayer in schools would promote tolerance and understanding.
When people of any age are exposed to other religions, it tears down the stereotypes that people build about those who follow certain practices. You would have a very different idea of someone who practices Islam by getting to know them and their prayer habits compared to what you see on the news or read online. The same is true for different Christian denominations and other cultures. This advantage provides each community with an opportunity for everyone to promote acceptance and religious tolerance instead of separation and anxiety.
▪️ It would give more respect to religions that require more time for prayer.
If you were to practice Islam, then you must have salat time each day. This ritualistic prayer occurs five times daily, and it is an integral component of how one practices their faith. There are specific religious practices in other spiritual approaches that require certain actions or responses as well. When we make prayer in schools a formal and inclusive approach, then we’re giving more respect to the faiths that require this time daily. Without this option, students must secure hall passes or request formal permission to be excused during the day when they have religious practices to complete.
▪️ It allows students to understand how to manage conflict.
One of the unusual advantages of having prayer in schools is that it creates a polarizing debate. Teachers who are passionate about their faith often choose institutions that permit prayer because it allows them to incorporate their spiritual life into their work. This emotional reaction adds value to the classroom that makes a positive difference in a student’s life because it pushes people to become better.
There will always be the occasional person who tries to leverage their influence in unhealthy ways. A small group of teachers and coaches each year are caught having inappropriate relationships with their students. Showing kids what the outcomes of life can be with prayer is certainly healthy, especially if it shows them how to manage conflict.
▪️Prayer in school might help students apply to more institutions of higher learning.
There are more than 1,000 different institutions of higher learning that take a Christian approach to education, yet they also accept applicants no matter what their religious beliefs happen to be. It is not unusual for a degree that comes from a school that allows prayer to hold more weight with employers than one that comes from a public institution that does not. Retention means stability in the life of an individual, and it is evidence that someone knows how to manage challenging situations in successful ways.
▪️ It gives us an opportunity to reach across the generation gap.
For the generation born on or after 1980, over 25% of individuals in the United States do not affiliate themselves with a specific religion. When we have prayer in schools, then there are opportunities to discuss the individual core beliefs that makeup who we are. Knowing what these differences are creates diversity in the classroom, offering more strength to the educational process. Even when people say that they are unaffiliated with their faith, a majority of students still share a majority of their parent’s perspectives on morality, death, heaven, and hell.
▪️ A personal prayer doesn’t need to be a specific message to God.
The act of prayer has specific, positive psychological benefits to those who participate in this activity. Even if you substitute the term for “meditation” or “personal reflection,” the benefits remain. Although organizations and critics might claim that a specific prayer can lead to one religion being promoted over all others, the answer to most freedom of speech actions is usually to offer more choices instead of fewer of them. If schools want to offer prayers under any name, then giving them the go-ahead to do so while offering a reasonable alternative could widen our perspectives of life.
The prayer spaces evaluated in this report are temporary events (perhaps for one or two weeks of the school year) set up, typically, in a school classroom, with various activities – mostly led by children and young people – that ‘enable children and young people, of all faiths and none, to explore … life questions, spirituality and faith in a safe, creative and interactive way’ (https://www.prayerspacesinschools.com/). There is ‘a range of creative activities that encourage personal reflection on issues such as forgiveness, injustice, thankfulness, big questions, identity and stillness’, and the prayer spaces are ‘run by a trained team of local Christians from a church or an organisation as a service to the school’ (Phil Togwell, personal correspondence 2018). The activities may include ‘prayer walls’, ‘thankful play dough’, ‘fizzy forgiveness’, ‘forgiveness stones’, ‘letting go’, ‘name that feeling’, ‘mirrors’, and ‘cardboard home’ (from the ‘top ten’ prayer activities, at https://www.prayerspacesinschools.com/topten). Such activities have been used in different ways in schools, over many years, and exemplify the history of ‘experiential’ work in RE (as in Hammond et al 1990) and spiritual development (as in West-Burnham and Huws Jones 2007). This evaluation is of the contribution of Prayer Spaces in Schools to the spiritual development of children and young people
Benefits Of Prayer In School
By Shreya Ghosh
The entire human race may be oblivious to the exact commencement of prayer and whether or not we actually try to reach any spiritual force in that way, in the absence of proof of the activity’s establishment, but scientists have not completely ruled out on its ineffectualness or even potential. Research has thrown hints on what makes prayer measurably useful to human beings, especially in the present era where whims and impulsiveness come at the cost of mental peace. Engrained in the heart of spiritualty, prayer is the progression to deeper values in life. Its dimensions set the way for self-reflection and also understanding of bigger things in life. Hence, prayer when done with right attitude and intent can bring a lot to the plate for people, especially for youth whose intellectual capacity is hinged on their ability to embrace reality.
Prayer is a kind of behavior which is often allied with religion and can be advantageous if practiced in school assemblies.
Prayer is meditation in disguise. Meditation is the best thing to happen if practiced by students. Praying doesn’t necessarily mean calling out to God but it can be perceived as reaching out to each individual’s faith. When that becomes sincere, what comes next is optimism. When students pray before starting their day it is necessary they look forward to the day. Few minutes’ of prayer can bring that sort of energy which helps people contemplate life and balance what comes forth. Students are constantly under pressure and their young minds need to deal with it positively. Praying in silence helps to gain the confidence to deal with any negativity of life.
Being thankful is equally important. Praying gives a few moments’ of silence to students for appreciating the good things in life. A sense of gratitude is important because we need to remember that life comes with a lot of surprises and its unpredictability is its truest essence. When situations are not in our favour we tend to easily adopt a scathing attitude to life. This is unhealthy for our mental balance. Understanding that problems are doors to only the good things are what make us wise and being grateful for that is a sign of wisdom.
Prayer is a way to calm the mind. Human beings have tendencies to be impulsive. And students are more imprudent due to lack of maturity. The way one handles a crisis talks a lot about a person. Praying is that form of meditation that helps students gather up for every adventure they’re going to take up, have the persistence to rationalize before plunging into a decision and stop themselves from harming someone. In short, prayer is a guide in disguise for students who go through a lot each day.
Focus and concentration is the most vital outcome of prayer. Standing straight, folding hands, joined feet and closed eyes – everyone aligned to one rhythm – this is the greatest form of concentration. In a whole day of millions of thoughts crossing our minds and the on and off juggling of emotions are a way lot harmful than we imagine. Hence trying to invest our thoughts into discrete thinking is the best way to cool the nerves and uphold normalcy in life.
Obviously when these are the best things that prayer or meditation bring, we have room for becoming a better version of ourselves. In today’s world of madness and instability, a slight sense of tolerance, confidence and forgiving attitude is not bad a picture. A child’s base is first established when s/he is a student and summoning them towards this way of life is only confirming they grow up as good human beings.
Prayer and Meditation Rooms Can Increase Inclusion
By Kathy GurchiekMarch 23, 2018
Some organizations provide a room for prayer or introspection that may include kneelers or foot-washing basins like the one pictured below.
The concept of bringing your whole self to work has been around for a while. For some organizations, that means providing a place for introspection—somewhere employees may pray, meditate, reflect—regardless of their faith or absence of one.
Respite from a Busy Day
Gogo, an in-flight Internet service provider for airline passengers, sought employee input when designing prayer rooms for its offices. Today it has such rooms on each of the four floors in its Chicago headquarters. One room includes a foot-washing station that Muslim employees requested for ritual cleansing, and three rooms have a kneeling bench, according to Debbie Fangman, facilities manager.
“We like to accommodate our employees” who represent a mix of religions, she said. About 150 of the 900 Chicago employees frequent the dedicated space to pray or meditate, or for “a quiet break, because it’s a pretty fast-paced [work] environment.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act stipulates that employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs or practices unless by doing so it imposes an undue hardship on the employer. Accommodation could include providing a space for prayer or reflection.
Reserving a room is encouraged, Fangman said, and a key card is required for access.
“We want [the purpose of] these rooms to be taken seriously” and for the rooms not to be used for ad hoc meetings or naps, she noted. “We’ve had such positive feedback.”
A Meaningful Gesture
Bak USA, a manufacturer of mobile computers based in Buffalo, N.Y., created a prayer room for its 100 employees who represent 14 nationalities.
The company created the dedicated space after Eva Bak, vice president of people, began giving up her office for 15 minutes every Friday so Muslim employees could use it for prayer. It wasn’t an inconvenience to her, she said, but the gesture “meant so much” to those affected employees.
It provides “that inclusion piece where people felt they could bring their ‘full selves’ to work,” Bak said in an e-mail.
“It’s well-known that diversity in teams leads to better decision-making, greater innovation and ultimately higher returns. It’s good for business. But inclusion is what connects people to the business, and we believe it’s one of the core reasons they stay,” she said.
“We serve a diverse workforce, but more importantly, we wanted to make it an inclusive workforce where everyone feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. That means making strategic decisions that align us with that thinking.”
An Atmosphere of Openness
Employees at Maple Holistics, a Farmingdale, N.J.-based provider of natural beauty products, use a converted boardroom to sit or kneel in prayer, according to Caleb Backe, the company’s marketing manager.
The room was made available after it became apparent that many employees were leaving their work area to pray at different times of the day. HR surveyed its 40 workers to gauge how many considered themselves religious and to learn their religious affiliations. It found predominant religions of the Western world—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—were represented.
“When we saw that more than half of the office [considered themselves] religious … we [set] up a prayer room for them to use during the day,” Backe said in an e-mail. “It’s been a success ever since. Employees have thanked us profusely for making the effort to accommodate their spiritual views and beliefs.”
He said productivity has increased, which he attributed to improved morale and an “atmosphere of openness on the floor regarding the respect of one another’s religious views.”
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Religion, Belief and Spirituality in the Workplace]
Kent Johnson, principal at Religious Diversity at Work in Dallas, recommends being sensitive when drafting company policies on rooms that are authorized for spiritual purposes. That’s to avoid implying that spirituality must be compartmentalized or that it’s unwelcome outside of designated areas, he explained in a SHRM Connect chat.
He noted that at Texas Instruments, where he was formerly employed, the company had designated rooms to accommodate special prayer or meditation needs of employees, “regardless of their particular faith.” While the rooms were predominantly used by Muslim employees, all employees were free to use them, he said.
“Most people worldwide believe in God. For many of them, their faith is the root of their deepest personal identity,” he said. “Their faith informs their work ethic, their notions of integrity and fairness, their ambitions and their hopes. Prohibiting expression of their faith is hugely counterproductive.”
The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, a secular, nonsectarian nonprofit, recommends calling such spaces “quiet rooms” to make it clear that the space is available to those who do not consider themselves religious or spiritual. Such a space “is meaningful to employees who practice a religion requiring prayer at specific times,” such as Muslims and Orthodox Jews, as well as to nonreligious employees who simply seek time to meditate or reflect,” it says on its website.
List of the Cons of Prayer in School
1. The Supreme Court ruled that involuntary school prayer violates the Establishment Clause.
The First Amendment is often looked at as the piece in American government that offers everyone the right to free speech, religion, and press. What some people do not realize is that there is also a component about government-established religion in this addition to the Constitution called the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment begins by saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” which is the reference to the Establishment Clause. If a public school, a government-run institution, requires students to follow prayer from one specific religion, then the Supreme Court believes that such an action violates this right.
2. Requiring prayer in schools would violate the separation of church and state.
The separation of church and state in the United States is a jurisprudential and philosophic concept that defines the relationship between government entities and religious organizations. Although this phrase is not in the Constitution, it did begin to appear in a series of cases in the 1940s. The decision in Everson v. Board of Education incorporated the Establishment Cause, determining that it applied to all states. The Supreme Court has mentioned it more than 25 times, sometimes embracing the principle more than others. Requiring prayer from a specific religion would qualify as an issue here too.
3. It could change the purpose of going to school for some students.
Voluntary prayer is already legal if the action occurs in a non-disruptive way. One could argue that formal school prayers are therefore unnecessary because this action never left in the first place. When institutions are given the right to perform the duties of a religion, then the purpose of their presence changes. Would kids be going to their classroom to learn about reading, writing, and arithmetic, or does prayer in school create opportunities for institutional proselytization?
Critics of the idea of having organized prayer in schools would say that children should go to the classroom for educational purposes instead of religious observance. Religious private schools offer an alternative environment if parents wish to use them for their family’s needs.
4. Forced school prayer could lead to an environment of intolerance.
The public school system in the United States was created to provide an educational benefit to all students and families. It receives financial support from all taxpayers in each community in one way or another. That’s why there is an emphasis on having the institution remain neutral from a religious standpoint since there will be issues where people will have differing opinions.
When groups of people find themselves at odds with others on crucial moral issues consistently, then it can lead to an atmosphere of intolerance. Prayer in schools would highlight the various religions differences that families have of which many students would be unaware of. It could even lead to the bullying or ostracization of those who refuse to participate in such an activity.
5. It creates a coercive set of circumstances for students.
Even if we set aside the issue of religious differences, schools provide an authoritarian relationship for students. Teachers and administrators are in charge, and the students are in a position to follow the expectations of the adults in the room. That means an adult with an agenda would have the ability to coerce the kids they’re charged with overseeing to a specific point of view under the threat of poor grades, discipline, or other adverse outcomes. This issue is why the Supreme Court allows for individual students or groups to pray together on their own time or quietly while in class instead of having the institution’s officials lead it.
No one can stop a student from quietly praying in their mind when sitting in a classroom. Most people wouldn’t even know that is what the student was doing at that moment. One could even argue that this principle follows the ideas presented by Jesus in Matthew 6. “But when you pray,” the Bible says, “go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
6. There is not a formal prayer that can honor every tenet of each religion practiced by students.
Even if there was an effort to only include Christian prayer in U.S. classrooms, this debate would still occur because of the differences that exist between the different denominations. Should the school pray in a way that Catholics would find suitable, or should it follow the principles taught in Protestant churches? Then you might have differences that separate Baptists from Methodists. The reality of prayer is that it is a component of faith, which is an individual experience first and a group experience second. That’s why this action is better left in the home or in a religious setting instead of at the local public school.
7. Students still need to have role models to have morality.
A student needs to see the people in their life living by example to understand the difference between right and wrong. Although individuals can figure out their moral compass independent of this process, it is imperative that we have role models in our schools who can show kids what it means to make positive choices. Parochial students often commit crime or use drugs at a higher rate than those in the public school system because they lack access to leadership. Depending on prayer as a way to enforce discipline is like sending positive thoughts to someone who was the victim of gun violence. It excuses personal responsibility because there is a dependence placed upon God to do something about what is happening in society.
8. No one stops teachers from praying by themselves either.
A former kindergarten teacher named Alicia told a website called Teachers Who Pray that many teachers are dealing with high levels of fatigue. “Too many teachers are emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted,” she wrote. “Prayer for teachers, as well as students, will make a huge difference in the whole school.” It should be noted that the same rules that students follow will also apply to teachers – with the exception that a group of adults cannot lead a group of students in this activity.
The current laws regarding the existence of prayer in school encourage kids to take the initiative in this area. Worries about eroding morality or the decline of the separation of church and state are both slippery slope arguments. If you don’t push people for compliance, then the activity is not banned in U.S. schools. You can also attend a private school where you can pray openly in the classroom without an issue if you prefer.
Should We Promote Having Prayer in School?
The pros and cons of prayer in school can become a contentious debate. It can seem like there is no common ground on this issue. Gallup consistently finds that more than 60% of Americans like the idea of having organized prayer during the school day, while over 75% have said that a Constitutional amendment addressing this idea is one worth pursuing.
It is essential to remember that prayer hasn’t been banned from school. Teachers, principals, coaches, and other staff are not permitted to initiate it. Your child can start a school club to connect with others who share a similar faith. Then they can meet, pray, and discuss their spirituality during or after school assuming that the actions don’t infringe on the rights of others.
Students are less impressionable than most people realize. Only 4% of children raised without religious affiliation later start joining the practices of a specific faith. It is the influence of the family that is most important in this debate. If parents spend time talking candidly about their personal beliefs, that activity will have a significantly positive impact on a child’s life.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master’s Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.