The question of prayer in schools has once again returned to the headlines.
This time the battleground is the state of Georgia, where the proposed Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016 states that “students in local schools may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day.” This is in spite of the fact that a 1962 Supreme Court ruling banned official prayer in schools.
So why are some Christians fighting to bring prayer back anyway?
Sabrina McKenzie, a spokesperson for Legislative Clergy Council (LCC), a supporter of the bill, claims that ever since the Supreme Court ruling outlawing school-sanctioned prayers, there has been a big increase in social problems like “violence, murder, teen pregnancy [and] divorce rate.”
McKenzie went on to explain that her group is “advocating on behalf of Georgia children. … If you don’t think prayer is the answer, then what is the answer?” she asked.
Did Ending School Prayers Bring About Violent Crimes?
There are a few problems with McKenzie’s logic. First, there’s a good chance that our country’s social issues over the past 50 years stem from issues beyond getting rid of prayer in schools. Also, as the organization Americans United points out, McKenzie’s depiction of the country in a moral decline since the 1960s isn’t exactly true. Teen pregnancy has been declining since the 1960s. Divorce rates did rise in the 60s and 70s, but after the 80s they steadily declined. That’s true for the violence, too.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney, however, agrees with McKenzie, and on February 9 he praised Georgia lawmakers for bringing the state “back to the era of sanity where you can mention Jesus in your classroom” with a plan to legalize school-approved prayer.
How Many Americans Identify as Christian Today?
Roughly 70 percent of Americans continue to describe themselves as Christians. However, a Pew Research Center survey found that the percentage of adults who embrace Christianity fell by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. Also showing a slight increase is the number of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths.
Presumably, this Georgia bill in referring to “prayer” has in mind Christian prayer, in spite of the diversity of believers and non-believers in the U.S.
Religion Has No Place in Public Schools
As a public school teacher, I have always received the memo that I should never discuss my religious or political preferences with my students. Public schools should not be in the business of promoting any one religion over another.
Parents can choose to send their children to private, religious schools, and that’s another matter entirely, but the fact is that around 90 percent of kids attend public schools in the U.S. As Care2’s Mindy Townsend puts it: “The reason we require people to go to school until a certain age is because we need people who have a minimum set of skills so society can function. If that is the goal, converting students to one religious sect or another, or convincing them to leave religion, is not something schools should be promoting.”
Since it’s pretty clear that this bill will fail, given the 1962 ruling by the Supreme Court, we have to ask why Georgia legislators have even proposed this idea. Presumably the answer is that they want to curry favor with voters. But no, religion and politics should be kept separate. Isn’t that what the U.S. is all about?