Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What We Need In School Instead of Mandated Prayer

For as much as I believe in God and the power of prayer, I’m often surprised by the calling for mandated school prayer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the idea of people praying together in school, per se; truth be told, I’d be in favor of it *if* we all had the same spiritual beliefs. But we don’t. We are a very diverse society, not to mention the fact that we live in a country founded on a number of core principles, one of them being religious freedom. Our children come from different families and cultures, with different religious and non-religious backgrounds. Even that statement could open a whole separate discussion on what it means to religious, or event spiritual, etc. Therefore, while nothing should ever stop a child who wants to pray on his or her own from doing so, I find myself at odds with the idea of making group prayer an organized activity in a public school.      

Aside from the above, when I see people shaming the absence of mandated prayer time in school, I wonder to myself, how many of those protesters are stressing the importance of prayer at home, with their own children. The home is such important place for children to learn about spiritual and moral principles, as well as for parents who believe in the importance and utility of prayer to teach that to their children. Perhaps the energy spent trying to socialize a need for mandated prayer would be better invested if we were to encourage one another to make prayer a priority in the home. 

Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, an absence of prayer in school does not have to mean an absence of God. Without forcing anyone to pray or to pray in a certain way or with certain terminology, we can still bring God into our schools; we can do this through the very values we help our children carry as they walk into school each day and interact with their fellow classmates. We must take the time, at home, to teach our children (both by words and by example) about kindness, humility, respect, forgiveness, and patience. We have to educate them about the importance of empathy and helping others. We should encourage them to stand up for others unable to defend themselves. We need to help them develop courage as they face different challenges. We ought to instill in them a love of nature. And the list goes on.

In light of recent events in our country, I have seen this wording displayed on t-shirts, posters, and memes, as well as being illustrated in comics and used for points in debate. 

“Dear God,
Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?
- A Concerned Student.

“Dear Concerned Student,
I'm not allowed in schools."
- God

Well, in reality, God is always allowed in schools. Ironically, our religious freedom granted by the US constitution actually protects the rights of all individuals, including students, to pray on their own in and accordance with their particular beliefs should they desire to do so. I’m thankful for this because, as a Spiritist, to me prayer is very important. I believe it is important for children to be taught both why to pray and what it means to pray and that we as parents and other caretakers in their homes and spiritual communities should help them develop the practice.  Like the moral values mentioned above, children can take this with them wherever they go, including school. They can know that when they want to ask God for help from or give thanks, they only need to direct their thoughts to God or to their spiritual mentors.

That said, if God is allowed but not brought into school as we’d like, that is evidenced by different circumstances than what the above-mentioned wording alludes to. Instead,

if we taught children to be compassionate,
if we nurtured our children’s emotional intelligence and taught them kindness and respect, and
if we put more emphasis on resolving and preventing bullying,

then, with this to begin with, God would be more present than ever in our schools.


if we could ensure that all children had the chance to learn on full stomachs and well-nourished bodies,
if we could make certain to include the arts as a part of every child’s education,
if our schools could be adequately staffed, with enough teachers for healthy class-sizes and with enough counselors to give children and parents the attention they need,
and more,

we’d go even further to bring God’s love to children and those whom we entrust with their care during some of the most formative years of their lives.

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Rather than prayer or even the mention of God by name in public schools, we sincerely need the essence of God – love and compassion. 

Thank you for reading.
Blessings to all, today and always