The legality of saying prayers in public schools is an ongoing debate in the United States. The following article will give readers an idea of the arguments that support or are opposed to prayer in public schools.
Since the Supreme Court banned nondenominational prayer recitation in public
schools in 1962 with the Engel v. Vitale decision, people who feel that
students should be able to pray in public school classes have waged battles in
courts to change the law. Those who are opposed are equally committed to
keeping prayer out of schools. What are their arguments?
Arguments Supporting Prayer in Public SchoolsThe unites States
Government Was Formed on Religious Ideas and Principles
George Washington stated on September 17, 1796, that, “It is impossible to
govern the world without God and the Bible.” In his 1781 “Notes on the State of
Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence,
wrote: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation
be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in
the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God?” The Founding
Fathers were convinced that the New Nation existed because of God’s will. They
would not have supported removing prayer from schools.
The Founding Fathers were not concerned with religion and government per
se, but with a state religion as the Church of England was in England the
during that time. Since many of the original colonists came to the New World to
escape religious persecution, the Fathers wanted to make sure that the
government would never adopt a "formal" religion. The separation of church and
state has been taken to an extreme that the Founding Fathers never would have
The majority of people in the United States support prayer in schools.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in July, 1999, 70% of Americans agree that
students should be allowed to say prayers out loud daily during class time.
Since the United States is a democracy and polls clearly indicate that the
majority of people living in the United States would prefer to have prayers in
schools, the government should allow spoken prayers in public schools during
The United States Has Gone Through a Moral Decline
Since the Supreme Court ruled against prayers in school in the early 1960's,
there has been a major decline in the morals and character of the American
people. Divorce rates for 1,000 married women over the age of fifteen went from
9.2 in 1960 to 20.9 in 1990. From 1963 to 2000, violent crime has increased
almost 350%. There have also been huge increases in the rates of drug abuse and
the incidents of teenage pregnancy. There is a clear link to the decline of
morality in the United States and the removal of prayer from
Arguments Against Allowing Prayers in Public Schools
Separation of Church and State
The Founding Fathers were not as supportive of religion as those who favor
prayer in schools would like to believe. In fact, many of the Founding Fathers
strongly questioned not only religion, but in some cases, the nature and
existence of God. In a letter to John Adams on August 15, 1820, Thomas Jefferson
wrote that, "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say
that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial is to say they are nothings, or
that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise." James
Madison wrote, "That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages
among some; and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of
impas for such business..." in a letter to William Bradford, Jr. in 1774. In
1758, Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac: "Lighthouses are
more helpful than churches.”
The Founding Fathers were very concerned about the separation between church
and state. "I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the
Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines,
discipline, or exercises," wrote Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Samuel Miller.
In 1808, James Madison wrote to William Bradford, Jr, "Who does not see that the
same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other
religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians,
in exclusion of all other sects?" And, in 1797, President John Adams and the
entire Senate of the United States acknowledged that Christianity was not the
foundation of the United States government when it ratified "the Treaty of Peace
and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of
Tripoli, of Barbary." This treaty, commonly referred to as the "Treaty of
Tripoli," included the statement that "…the Government of the United States of
America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…" The Founding
Fathers would have applauded the Supreme Court’s removal of prayer from public
The "Moral Decline" Issue is Vastly Overstated
The United States has not experienced any where near a collapse in moral
values as those described by people who support praying in public schools. Yes,
there has been an increase in the percentages of divorce from 1960 to 1990.
However, this is probably more of a reflection of the growing economic
independence of women than a "moral decline." Actually, the divorce rate was
higher in post-World War II 1950, a period of national prosperity, than in 1960.
In 1950, the divorce rate per 1000 married women over fifteen was 10.3 versus
the 9.2 rate in 1960. Prayer was allowed in public schools both in 1950 and
1960. In addition, the crime rates are vastly overstated. For example, the
murder rate and non-negligent manslaughter rate per 100,000 has increased from
4.6 to 5.6 from 1963 to 2002, an increase of slightly over 1.1% per year. Much
of this increase, and increases in other crime rates, can be explained by better
reporting and record keeping and, as in the case of rape, by changes in social
outlook through the years.
The Supreme Court Never Outlawed Prayer in School
The Supreme Court's decisions from 1962 to this day have never banned
students from praying, reading the Old Testament, reading the New Testament,
reading the Koran, or any reading information relating to any religion during
students' free time. The decisions have not banned classes that study religions,
compare religions, or discuss religions in an objective, informative manner.
According to the Supreme Courts' decisions, religious upbringing is the
responsibility of parents and family, not the schools and the government.