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School Prayer and the Separation of Church and State: The Conflict That Keeps On Giving

Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 27 years.

Today, public prayer is forbidden in our nation's schools.

Today, public prayer is forbidden in our nation's schools.

School prayer…what a mess! Our nation has been fighting over this issue ever since the 1960s when the Supreme Court ruled that school prayer along with school Bible reading, teachers discussing religious topics, and posting the Ten Commandments are unconstitutional.

Why was school prayer removed? We’re told the reason is that...

America is a nation founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. As a pluralistic nation, we respect all religious beliefs and would not want someone else’s beliefs imposed upon us. Therefore, it’s wrong for us to impose our beliefs on others. This especially applies to children. We should not impose upon them the external rituals of religion like organized prayer: faith should be something natural that comes from the heart and not a dry, legalistic, formalistic prayer. Therefore, public prayer has been banned from schools.

While the above mantra might sound plausible to some, it’s mistaken. This essay is dedicated to countering the argument that prayer should be banned from our nation’s schools.

The Separation of Church and State

First, the separation of church and state. The separation of church and state has been an important feature of the American experience. Many Americans throughout history and some foreigners, like Alexis de Tocqueville, have remarked on the distinction between church and state and how it has been important in American history. But what does “separation of church and state mean”?

A “church” and the “state” are institutions, so to “separate” church and state is to maintain a clear distinction between institutions. “Separation of church and state” would imply that the leadership and finances of the two institutions should be kept distinct. When it comes to finances, the state should not pay a tithe to the church and the church should not pay a tax to the state.

However, “separation of church and state” does not mean the separation of religion and politics. To bar religious ideas from the public square is to discriminate based on religion. For example, some anti-religious groups have tried to ban an abstinence-based sex-education curriculum from public schools because the idea is “religiously-based.” But what is awkward for religion-bashers is that the concept of the separation of church and state is a Christian idea. The late political theorist, George Sabine, had this to say about the separation of church and state:

The rise of the Christian church, as a distinct institution entitled to govern the spiritual concerns of mankind in independence of the state, many not unreasonably be described as the most revolutionary event in the history of western Europe, in respect both to politics and to political philosophy …Christianity raised a problem which the ancient world had not known—the problem of church and state—and implied a diversity of loyalties and an internality of judgment not included in the ancient idea of citizenship…[1]

So, the distinction between church and state was initially a Christian idea, not a secular one. Furthermore, when we are separating church and state, we are separating institutions, not practices. The finances, bylaws, the leadership should be kept separate. As for religion and politics, they are inseparable.

An atheist view of tolerance of religion is that our nation's children can pray outside the school beside the flagpole because their faith is not welcome on the inside.

An atheist view of tolerance of religion is that our nation's children can pray outside the school beside the flagpole because their faith is not welcome on the inside.

Religious Pluralism

Second, let’s look at the belief that we are to respect all religions. This is probably the most ridiculous of all the statements. We do not respect all religions. Some religions would demand the eradication of all other faiths except their own. Do we respect such beliefs? What about religions that demand polygamy or child sacrifice? Are we under obligation to permit, under the umbrella of religious free exercise, practices that are immoral?

Furthermore, it’s wrong to suppress the free exercise of religion in the schools over the fear that someone might be offended by a school prayer. In America, we don’t suppress the freedoms of others because someone might be offended by its exercise. It’s wrong to remove the Ten Commandments from the children’s view, wrong to cut the mike of a valedictorian address because she acknowledges God in public, and wrong to send school children to the administrator’s office because they did their school project on a religious theme.

One view of religious freedom prevails in our schools: It’s the view of the atheist who holds that no public exercise of religion should be allowed since he will be offended by it. Perhaps his opposition stems from having been made to participate in religion when he was younger. But whatever the source of his aversion, his disapproval should never have been allowed to become the policy of the many. He angrily protests that your views on religion should not be imposed upon him while he rubs your nose in his own.

Today, we are told that America should have a "freedom from religion." However, no one has a right not to hear or see something religious. All of us see and hear things that offend us everyday. A part of maturity is knowing how to handle that without throwing a tantrum about it.

What the atheist would have us to believe is that because there are variations of religious beliefs, all beliefs, except his, should be suppressed. But the rationale is childish. We suppress neither the freedom of speech nor the freedom of the press just because people have differing views on the subject.

The Value of a Ritual

A third reason for banning school prayer is that prayer is a religious ritual that children should be exposed to only when they are adults when they can make religious decisions for themselves.

The problem with this view is that we regularly expose children to our values and beliefs and sometimes we impose them. In fact, we have an ethical obligation to impose some values upon them. Should we allow children to make their own choices on whether they learn or not? Whether they choose to love or hate those outside their race? “Let’s let them decide for themselves whether or not they leave the scene of a hit-and-run accident of which they were the perpetrator.” You see the problem, don’t you? We do not and cannot wait to impose certain practices upon children. They must be taught and they must be taught now.

It is right to acknowledge God and be grateful to Him. Children should be taught how to express these ideas, even if they don’t fully understand them or mean them.

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Yes, it’s true: children often don’t know what they’re saying when they’re praying. They often lack the depth of understanding to comprehend their actions in such matters. But, I reject the idea that a ritual prayer has no value in the life of a child. We have children do many things in which they lack the wisdom of perceiving their value. It’s silly to oppose prayer in schools on those grounds.

When I was in school in the late 60s, every morning we would stand in our class, say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing "My Country Tis of Thee" and pray the Lord's Prayer. That old teacher of mine apparently didn't know that her nation’s Supreme Court had earlier ruled that those rituals were unconstitutional or perhaps she did know, but just didn't care. After all, praying in school was constitutional for most of her adult life.

When we prayed the Lord's Prayer, we hardly knew what we were doing. But we knew enough to know that it was about God. We also didn't understand the significance of saying the Pledge or singing the song “My Country Tis of Thee,” but we knew enough to know that they were about America.

Some of my best memories from grade school are from those first grade rituals. I taught all my children that prayer, and today, when I pray it, it's no mere ritual. When I publicly pray it, I think about what I'm saying. Throughout my life, I have contemplated the meaning of the words. It's been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling spiritual experiences of my life.

As long as atheist lunatics are allowed to impose their values on the rest of us, the conflict over prayer in schools will continue.

As long as atheist lunatics are allowed to impose their values on the rest of us, the conflict over prayer in schools will continue.

A Conflict that Keeps on Giving

Today, most people think that the conflict over prayer in schools surrounds those that want to keep prayer out v. those that want prayer back in. But that’s not the real tension. The fault line exists because prayer, Bible reading, and the general acknowledgement of God were removed in the first place. It's been a divisive issue ever since that happened. And there is no way it will ever cease to be a controversy until the ban is lifted.

A good argument can be made that a government-created and sanctioned prayer is a mistake, that schools should not impose such prayers. But the people of this nation have the freedom to corporately pray in the schools if they so wish and the existing prohibition of that freedom is a violation of the free exercise of religion as stated in the First Amendment of the Constitution. This lunacy must stop.

It’s going to stop.

This is the United States of America, a nation predicated on the belief that men, women, and children have the freedom to worship God in their homes, as well as in the streets; in the school house as well as in the church house. The ban on prayer is unsustainable: the American people will not suffer it forever. Christians should take heart: some atheists have succeeded in imposing their narrow view of religion on our government and its schools. They have been successful in eliciting the help of the historically ignorant under misplaced metaphors like the “Wall of Separation.” They have convinced many of our citizens that their view of religion is to free American from religious oppression. But all they have given us is oppression. This imposition will not last forever.

If you enjoy controversy, you’ve embraced a winner, because this matter of prayer in schools will never go away so long as our children are treated as criminals for believing in God and exercising that belief in our nation’s schools.


[1] George Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961.

© 2010 William R Bowen Jr


Sanxuary on September 29, 2017:

I think you have to provide a place like an airport and allow people to go their. A seperate building for religous studies would be fine as well. I do not think church everywhere in a school will ever work. We have to be secular and allow difference and a place or time for each group. Not even churches agree on anything and all the so called believers who support the devil named Trump have proven they love hypocrisy. The church would be destroyed in their pursuit of discrimination and the false message they bring to others. We must learn to argue and be willing to accept the truth based on the facts. When people can learn about the Bible and no longer be forced into conversion but make their own choice. When one can read the Bible and see wisdom, intelligence and common sense regardless of if they believe in god or not. Even if all I ever wanted was wisdom the Bible would be the greatest book ever writtren. Sadly free will has destroyed any regard for the truth or facts on any given subject and that is why the argument has been lost. It takes free will to make any decision regarding God. It takes spiritual maturity outside of the Church to practice anything. The complete disregard for all Earthly agendas is required to only see salvation. Earth is purgatory and the lowest of spiritual beings need a lifetime to face judgement. We are never going to find it in a Godless nation or a Theocracy where religous leaders tell us what we must do. Its about having enough patience and faith that others will be shown the way by there own jorney to see beyond this life.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on July 29, 2013:

Sanxuary, I agree. And I think an even better way for choice to be expanded beyond your suggestions, is for our society to create a system where we would have more choices of schools and that each would be equally subsidized or not subsidized at all by the state. The system as it is is too monopolistic around the aims and goals of the teacher's unions. They will continue to stifle the choice of parents and students. But I agree that your solutions that you mention would be a start. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Sanxuary on July 29, 2013:

We have been fighting this battle the wrong way for a very long time. Having it all someone's way depending on where you live this way of thinking suppressed many others. We need to demand choice and accommodations just like everyone else. Parents should have the right to not have their children taught sex education they disagree with and be given choices. Hundreds of places have rooms to pray in and why can a school not allow such a place. When did not praying in silence become a law breaker? The military makes accommodations for all faiths, why can a school not do the same? Belief is more powerful then learning and their is not one study that can disprove it. Choice and the right to practice your beliefs, supersedes anything they can attempt to deny you. You have to demand choice and fight for your beliefs. Instead to much time has been wasted on denying others choice while they denied you of yours.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 08, 2012:


First, you assume that the majority cannot be oppressed by a minority. Have you ever heard of the Bolsheviks? In his famous essay #10 of the Federalist Papers, James Madison speaks of "factions" that are groups that are actuated and have the effect of suppressing the rights of others.

Second, prayer is prohibited in schools. To say otherwise is to not be informed. This year several valedictorians and salutatorians are going to be told that they cannot pray or make mention of God in their addresses before an audience.

Public demonstrations of religion are being suppressed, a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. A few years ago, a senior, Brittany McComb, made reference to Jesus in a speech in an outdoor graduation exercise. Some official pulled the plug on the sound system so the audience could not hear her. She was not even trying to offer a prayer; she just made mention of God and her rights were clearly violated in that situation. Situations like that of Brittany's happen all the time and it's happening to our kids. This should offend you.

Prayer is not an imposition of religion. If the framers of our government thought that, they would never have permitted prayer in the Congress and yet that tradition is still continued on till this day.

You cannot call the free exercise of religion "forcing Christianity" on others. The free exercise of religion is an entitlement; people do not need to ask or get permission to exercise it. If others don't like it or if they feel suppressed by it--too bad.

alexsaez1983 on April 26, 2012:

Are you kidding me? Christian beliefs are trampled on? Is that why the vast majority of Americans identify as Christian? Is that why not professing a belief in God is a career killer in politics? Give me a break. If anything, it's atheists who get short-changed. Sorry, nobody's trying to suppress your right to pray in schools. You can pray of your own volition, but forcing others to do it is unfair to them. Again, if someone belongs to another religion, how are you respecting THEIR rights by forcing Christianity on them?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 26, 2012:

If you will read the article carefully, you should note that I am not making an argument that there should be prayer in school. Rather, my argument is that there should be no federal prohibition of it, which is what we have in play today. Individual communities can make their own decisions about what religion will be favored or not favored. This is called "freedom", something that the left is increasingly bereft of.

Second, why would Muslims want to force school children to read the Bible?

Third, the statement that there is no evidence of the Christian God's existence could not be reasonably made by any one who knows what he's talking about. There are the historical claims of Jesus of Nazareth as vindicated by his resurrection. There is the fine tuning of the universe, the existence of morality, the apparent finitude of the universe, the life-changing power of the experience of God in people's lives, just to name a few. These may not be good evidences; in the end, they may fail. But to say that there are no evidences is ignorance parading as confidence.

alexsaez1983 on April 23, 2012:

I'm sick of Christians clammering for prayer in schools, when they'd be outraged if, say, Muslims wanted to force all public school students to read the Bible. There are many faiths in the U.S. and the country is founded on not giving preference to one religion over another. The only way to make it legitimate is to give each student equal exposure to every religion. Of course, that won't happen because as we all "know", the only true God is the God in the Bible. There's no evidence for the Christian God's validity over other gods, but hey, all you need is faith and that alone makes it true, right?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on February 23, 2012:

Marquis--I could not have said it better. Thanks for your comments and stopping by.

Marquis from Ann Arbor, MI on February 23, 2012:

Notice, when prayer was in public schools, they were not so bad. Now look at them. Public school systems in America are awful. Believing in God and the prayers in school helped children a lot.

Now all children have to look up to is the encroachment of gays, lesbians and transgenders trying to teach them how to put on condoms. In addition to that, the American social structure has eroded because the moral belief installed within Christian prayer is gone.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on February 11, 2012:

BP, first, what is your basis for the claim that we live in a "constitutional republic" yet earlier you say that the Constitution is to be subordinate to statutes? It is the Constitution that creates the Congress that makes the statute. The Supreme Court regularly strikes down statutes that violate the freedom of religion of the American people.

Second, even if you were right about the constitution-statute relationship (and I don't see how you can be) prayer in school is not a criminal act. There is no statute that forbids it. Prohibition against prayer in schools has become policy largely through court cases coupled from pressure from groups like the ACLU and AU to intimidate local schools to comply with it. Lift the ACLU and the intimidation by groups, and prayer in school would flourish. In the end, it is through well-financed bullying, not law, that keeps prayer out of schools.

Next, no one is saying that anyone can do anything that they please and call it "religious freedom." The Reynolds case (1878) that involved the Mormons and bigamy already addressed this issue. Bigamy was considered "criminal" because it had been criminal under English law. Justice Waite said that actions such as those that "were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order" were not protected under the Free Exercise Clause.

Prayer has never been deemed criminal and has always been found to be pervasive throughout American culture, including its civic actions. Your claim that prayer is “criminal” has no force to it.

badpoet81 on February 04, 2012:

In Utah, and other places throughout the west we have communities of religious adherents to a doctrine that demands that young girls are sexually assaulted and married off to their far older uncles. To the people in these communities this is a matter of their religious belief and practice. The communities are closed, children are taught that leaving the community means that they are damned to hell, that disobeying the prophet damns them and their families to hell.

This is why the exercise clause needs to be subordinate to statute. In your brand of reasoning any practice that an organized religion could conceive would be entirely legal for them to practice. Jurisprudence demands that some liberty be limited for the protection of others. This is jurisprudence older than Christianity itself. The only reason that liberties are restricted at all is to protect the public at large, our rights to private property, our welfare, etc.

I highly doubt our framers would have been advocates of a system that allows for reprehensible practices in the name of organized religion. I am not saying that public prayer is reprehensible, but that the Exercise clause should not have the overreaching authority you assign to it.

With a government established by the people and for the people how can you in good conscience say that some freedoms shouldn’t be limited for the public’s benefit? Some liberties are limited to protect others that are more fundamental and important. While religious practices are fundamental they do not have any sort of trump over other fundamental rights, ie life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When I am at school I am there to learn the curriculum that the state has mandated I learn because I am pursing my diploma, or degree, in the pursuit of happiness. Nowhere in that scenario is there a need for prayer, and so introducing it into the equation is infringing upon what I am doing.

Being in a Constitutional Republic isn’t a free pass for organized religion to have its way all the time, nor should it be.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on February 04, 2012:


There are specifics in the Constitution; it's not merely a set of vague generalities.

The thrust of this hub is not to demand a requirement that there be prayer in schools; rather, that a blanket prohibition on prayer is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Second, your reasoning is backwards regarding illegality and religious practices. The First Amendment prevails as to what can be deemed a "legal" or "illegal" religious practice. The federal government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion, period. If they do, they are acting unconstitutionally.

The Supreme Court does not have the power to protect "the public at large"; they are charged with applying the law. The purpose of a Constitution is to protect us from such nonsense as politicians who say "yes, I'm taking away your freedom, but I am doing it for the public's benefit."

If you want to read the stories of the religious who regularly have their rights violated, go to sites sponsored by the Christian Law Association, the Rutherford Institute, the Alliance Defense Fund, and the American Center for Law and Justice.

Finally, where you think Christians need to practice their religion is irrelevant. Possessing the free exercise of religion as a right recognized by the Constitution means, in part, that one's faith need not be justified in the eyes of those that might think that the religious should keep their faith personal and behind closed doors.

badpoet81 on February 03, 2012:

The Constitution establishes a form of government, and principles for government, not the particulars. This is intentional to provide flexibility, and why it allows for the various parts of the body politic to establish their own rules, and norms. For example the Constitution allows the U.S. Senate the ability to establish their own procedures and rules for operations. I’m not setting aside the constitution; rather the constitution is smaller than most make it out to be.

It is the traditional purpose of the U.S. Supreme Court to interpret applications of the Constitution. All religious practices can’t be protected by the first amendment because some practices may be illegal or contrary to public welfare. This is a principal of sound governance…. The public at large is more important to protect than a religious denomination.

In the case of prayer in public schools it has been argued, successfully, and repeatedly, (ie. Engel v Vitale) that a public school requiring a religious practice violates the Establishment Clause of the first amendment. That makes the act of a public school requiring a religious practice illegal.

This is how it boils down; individuals have the right to pray, but public institutions don’t have the legal ability to require their clients to do so. In this way both clauses are being upheld. I don’t see how it gets anymore fair to both constitutional concepts, and I have a wealth of U.S. Justices at all levels that agree with me.

Growing up I never heard anyone complain that their rights as a Christian were being trampled daily in their public schools. Christian values thrive regardless of what is taught in school, so long as Christian households are making it thrive. If there is a need to strengthen Christianity, then Christians need to start where it’s appropriate, in their own lives, in their own homes.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on February 02, 2012:

BP, we can't put the Constitution aside; that's where we start. Second, policy does not give way to religious practices; it's the reverse. There is a Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution that says that the exercise of religion is not to be prohibited. Policy is to be subordinated to a Constitution; that's what it means to live under the rule of law.

Wake up, BP, Christian young people have their religious beliefs trampled on and suppressed every day. It's a violation of the Constitution and I am confident that if America remains a constitutional republic, that policy will change.

charles wade from Chicago, Illinois on February 01, 2012:

I apologize for not reading all comments made and if I happen to duplicate already stated opinions on the subject.

It would be my preference to see a “wall of separation” between the government and our school system as a first priority. I am not opposed to local taxes being collected to offset the per student cost of education in each locality. The education of each new generation is and will continue to be a high priority in any successful nation.

People should be afforded the opportunity to provide a Christian education to their children without the increased costs involved under our current system. We have become an increasingly diverse nation religiously and even if a person is an atheist, they should have the opportunity to compete in a free market educational system.

As long as our federal government isn’t advocating one religion over another or providing benefits to any religion other than the protection of their rights under the constitution; their main objective is accomplished. Having prayer in school or the posting of the ten commandments in a government run school system is as wrong to me as a government run school system in present day America.

A secular, government run school isn’t structured to accommodate an assortment of beliefs and it is impractical to think it should. We are no longer anywhere close to the Nation we were in the 1950’ and it is doubtful that we will ever be again. The American people might be better served with diversity in our choice of schools rather than attempting to created diversity in our current system.

Our children are pummeled with diversity talk, maybe it is time we allow them to be diverse.

badpoet81 on January 29, 2012:

Public schools are where they need to be in regard to this issue. Students have the freedom to have faith, to pray on their own time, and the schools have no right to suppress their faith.

First amendment verbiage aside it is important to note that the Supreme Court of the USA does not extend the first amendment to religious practices (Reynolds v. United States). While the explicit language reads that religious practices that are contrary to law are not protected, the message is clear. Religious practices take a back seat to policy, after all organized religion is allowed to stay and function at the discretion of the government, under the protection of the government. Public schools are entities of the government, and as such religious practices take a back seat to the curriculum of public schools; the strong personal conviction of individuals notwithstanding.

I come from the state of Utah where the predominant organized religion (LDS Church) has a building across the street from every high school and junior high school. The students have the option of taking one class period to go to that “seminary” building and have lessons, prayers, etc. In this way the students are able to exercise their religious “needs,” but also leave the rest of us out of it. Perhaps proponents of the need for prayer in school should advocate for a similar system.

vonlan from Iowa on December 10, 2011:

Just to inform about those who think this country was started by people wanting to separate church and state, sorry to burst your bubble. People were trying to get away from the Church of England. They were forced financially to support the religion whether being believers or not.

It was an understood principle of the time that faith was to embrace your daily actions. Believe it or not, faith principles and details of such were actually TAUGHT in school. Yes, public school. Think there might be some kind of coincidence that since religion (well, Christianity anyway) has been banned from public school, our country falls further and further behind other countries in respect to graduating students' abilities.

Our founding fathers described government as a necessary evil required to be in place because not everyone chooses to follow Biblical principles.

Sure, it's nieve to think everyone would follow God's guidelines, but what if they did?

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 11, 2011:

And like Kaiser Sozay........

he was gone.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 09, 2011:

Of course they had biases. Do you think they were a monolithic single minded block that sat down and wrote the COTUS in an afternoon? You know they fought like cats and dogs because they had biases and opinions. When they legislated, those biases came to bear on the laws they passed, just like today. Heck, their biases led to pistol duels! Sure we can disagree with them, just like they disagreed with each other.

No response to the rest of the post though, huh?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 09, 2011:

So, is your point that we know more about what is constitutional than the men who created it? That we would judge their actions as unconstitutional and ours constitutional? What hubris! I love it!

You say they had biases? You're right. They had a bias against tyranny. They largely possessed the biases of those that lived in an agrarian society that were greatly influenced by the Christian religion. And some of those biases are encapsulated in the document.

What is to be done about this? The only honorable thing is to amend the document if you want to swap out their biases and agendas for ours. Convince enough of your fellow travelers to organize, raise money and awareness and get the document amended.

Otherwise, the Constitution fails to provide the rule of law and just provides a pretext for "whatever we want to do."

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 09, 2011:

So your argument is that the implementation of the COTUS at the time of its passage was inerrant and perfect and can not be found subsequently in error.

I respectfully disagree. These were not gods. They were people, influenced by the same biases and agendas that we have today.

Currently, jurisprudence has come down on the side of not leaving any impression of establishment by emphasizing one faith tradition over another. Unless you want to cycle Wiccans, Athiests,Presbyterians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, in front of the loudspeaker in the schools, you are restricted. You have not made a case that the constant recitation of prayer that you find personally acceptable to impressionable children does not constitute establishment. The courts think it does.

Good luck in court. See you there.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 09, 2011:

"Your argument that the establishment suggests the government supporting something that already exists does not follow. It's not a logical conclusion from the clause. It forbids government from making law that would create 'establishment' (active) of religion, not the support of an 'established' religion."

As I stated, I think your reading of "respecting" is allowable, but I don't know that it's the correct one. However, if "respecting" means "to give respect to" (which I also believe is another possible reading) then it does follow: Congress is not to give respect to an establishment of religion. To give respect to one would be to exclude the others. In fact, this is the position of some of the "conservative" justices on the Court, sometimes referred to as "accomodationists" such as Scalia, Thomas, and the late Chief Justice Rehnquist. As for Roberts and Alito, I'm not as sure about them.

This was also the view of others at the time of the founding (respecting = not giving preference to one over the other). For example Justice Joseph Story, appointed to the Bench by President Madison, said in his Commentary on the Constitution:

"The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects [denominations] and to prevent any national ecclesiastical patronage of the national government."

But I want to reiterate that, for the main point I'm making, it doesn't matter. Even if your interpretation is correct, prayer in schools is no violation of the Establishment Clause because 1) Congress is not imposing a uniform prayer on the schools and 2) it was not considered an "establishment" at the time of the founding for the reason that prayers were (and are) regularly offered within government institutions.

However, what the Court is currently doing (and what you advocate) is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause which is to impose a uniform prohibition against what is supposed to be the free exercise of religion.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 09, 2011:

" Finally, I’m not advocating mandatory prayer in school; I’m opposing its absolute prohibition. Americans have the right to make this choice of whether to pray or not pray."

This is quoted from your response to Adagio. We are in total agreement and you are stating the position of the ACLU, too.

Kids are free to pray, but the school is not free to lead them in it and make them feel coerced into the practice.

Your argument that the establishment suggests the government supporting something that already exists does not follow. It's not a logical conclusion from the clause. It forbids government from making law that would create "establishment" (active) of religion, not the support of an "established" religion.

Reading it as "in regard to" is extremely important to the point you were making before. You are trying to adapt your point now to maintain its relevance. You have already acknowledged that it dismantles your previous point. You had the character to admit that. Don't weaken that by trying to minimize the error. It was admirable.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 09, 2011:

You are correct and I stand corrected. This is one of the usages and I also checked the Webster's 1828 edition which also confirms your point.

I am not conceding that this the reading that it should be given, however what little research I just did would seem to indicate that this is a possible reading of "respecting" at the time of the First Amendment's drafting. This supports your earlier point.

I would have to go back and look at the different discussions regarding the First Amendment during its proposal. Although many quote Madison on this point (he introduced the First Amendment), it was the wording of Fisher Ames that was adopted in the end.

I'd have to give it some more thought, but I don't think that reading it "in regard to" is important to my point. If we substituted the expression (for the sake of argument) "Congress shall make no law 'in regard to' religion", prayer in schools is not a law, and the prohibition had to do with "an establishment" which would suggest existing state establishments. This would make sense as the states would want to protect their own established churches from a national church (like in Europe). This would also explain the prohibition on religious oaths in Article VI.

As for the remainder of my comments, look at the entry that I gave to Adagio (above) just before you entered the discussion.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 09, 2011:

The Founders did know their english, apparently. It's you who needs a brush up.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 07, 2011:

Oh well, I will rest on the knowledge that the greatest legal minds of the last 30 years have disagreed with you, and I share their judgment.

That's really all there is to it.

Good luck in your crusade. In the meantime, enjoy your faith, and report back when someone doesn't allow you to worship as you see fit.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 07, 2011:

Governments don't have religious faith; people do. People don't check their religious faith at the door of the school. It is not a criminal act to pray before a meal at school. These policies are leading to the suppression of Americans in our schools.

What's being misrepresented is your misrepresenting that prayer in the schools is a religious establishment. Prayer is not a "law." "Respecting" does not mean "in regard to." If that were true, they were violating the Establishment Clause left and right in the eighteenth century. Give the framers some credit: they were intelligent enough to know the difference between "respecting" and "regarding."

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 07, 2011:

How can the people "work out their differences" if one theological point of view is emphasized to children by people that possess enormous authority over them? I don't want the people's faith repressed in a government institution. I want the government's faith suppressed there to allow the people's faith to remain free.

Once again, I don't wish to suppress free exercise, just prevent establishment. As long as you repeatedly misrepresent the position as being an attack on free exercise and not the maintenance of the establishment clause, we can't move on in the discussion. They aren't to be conflated.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 07, 2011:

"A better interpretation keeps the government out of it altogether, and leave faith in the hands of the people."

How can you engage in such doublespeak with a straight face? Your proposal places the government obtrusively in the middle of the policy, with the Court continually acting as a referee, and continually making the suppression of religion more controversial as every year passes. The Court's approach (and apparently yours) has not "settled the law" in this matter.

Furthermore, you have made it clear that you are not willing to "leave faith in the hands of the people." You want their faith suppressed in a government institution; apparently, you consider them too imbecilic to work out their religious differences in a social setting like a school.

If you want to engage in a crusade to suppress the free exercise of religion, knock yourself out. But don't employ the language of freedom in doing so. You only soil it.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 07, 2011:

The only way to make the case that all interpretation of all laws must stay the way they were in the 1780's is to say that they were unable to err in their judgments. You are lifting these people to the station of gods, not fallible men. The job of the SCOTUS is to interpret the COTUS the best way they can and to render a judgment. They may disagree with the Founder's interpretations at times, and that is their job.

The free exercise clause is what protects all our freedoms to worship as we see fit. Noone has the first problem with that, that I have seen. But the establishment clause has been interpreted to mean the government should be hands off when it comes to influencing people in regards to their faith. It is a personal, protected issue that the government has no business meddling with.

To make your case, you have made the strange interpretation that "respecting" means that the government won't endorse a religion that somehow has become "established" independent of them, and since no religion has been established, then that is moot. Wow. Either you don't believe that Christianity is the established religion of the country, therefore undermining your argument that you regularly make that we are a Christian nation, or you believe it has been established and the government can't respect that. Either way, it is a misreading of the Amendment. In the context of the text, "respecting" can be read as "in regard to". No laws can be made that will be construed as creating the appearance of establishing one faith as the accepted one. You may not agree with this reading, but it is certainly what COTUS scholars have determined it to mean, and it has been upheld repeatedly by both liberal and conservative SCOTUS decisions.

Your last paragraph hits the nail on the head. Free exercise protects the people and their worship choices, and it is a part of the COTUS. You are right to specify this clause in your argument, for it is this that protects your right to worship as you see fit. The courts have caught up to that long ago. But the free exercise is not the establishment clause. That clause is a restrictive clause on government intervention in the faith lives of the people. You have made it very plain in your last paragraph that you actually understand this, in spite of your political agenda to thwart it.

I invite you to share with us what the strawmen are that I have set up for you. The teacher with heretical ideas that they then teach the children is not a strawman, but an inevitable eventual reality of your idea. A better interpretation keeps the government out of it altogether, and leave faith in the hands of the people. Are you not the one who said no law is absolute? The right to exercise your religion freely is restricted when you choose to become a representative of the government to minds that cannot evaluate its value. But when you leave your work, your rights are the same as any other citizen, protected by the free exercise clause. As a teacher, you straddle the two clauses and are bound by both.

Exercise your faith. Enjoy it, share it, relish it. But God himself sees no value in a faith imposed. It is only the free choice to embrace his love and grace that give it any meaning or value.

Stand for freedom for all people of faith, and those without it. In such an environment, the truth will set the honest inquirer free.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 07, 2011:

Yes, I’m grasping at straws--so stop creating the straw men that I must dismantle. The evil teacher that wants to impose religious monotheism on the kiddies--give us a break! If you really want to go after the menaces in the schools, how about using your rhetorical skills to go after the goons that are promoting their "sexual orientation" in front of second graders and do it under the umbrella of “civil rights”--those are the people that need to be caught (and then locked up).

Perhaps I have not made my case, but I have offered evidence. The evidence is clear enough: if prayer in government institutions was permissible at the time of the Constitution's ratification, it was constitutional. Furthermore, if it was constitutional then, it's constitutional today (since the Constitution has not been amended on this matter). We know that prayer was (and is!) permissible in government institutions. As for making my case, that's up to the reader to decide whether or not the argument is sufficient. I’m not surprised you’re not convinced; but I don’t think you were open to being convinced when you landed here.

Second, it's better to have the decisions about religion be made within human freedom, not by the government. What you call "radical"; most Americans call "liberty." Most Americans do not favor a single uniform policy banning religion. Poll after poll show that the American people oppose the ban on religious free exercise in schools. Your approach supports the suppression imposed by one; my approach supports the freedom of choice of the many.

You may have the Court on your side, but that's all you have: power. History says you’re wrong, which explains why you’ve not made an argument from history. The Constitution also says you’re wrong, which might explain why you’ve not made a constitutional argument. Your argument has been an argument from power “This is what the Court has done.” Well, we don’t need a current events lesson. There ought to be some argument that warrants the suppression of religious free exercise by the government, but you have not made it.

As for tyrants in history, they often get reversed, usually not by law, but by force. It is the tyrants of history that usually are interested in suppressing religious free expression. Your policy is tyrannical; it is the imposition of one rule on the many; a rule that is illegitimate since the American people have freedom in this area, a freedom granted to them in natural right by God and a freedom secured under the Constitution. There is no constitutional ground to suppress government employees in the exercise of religion. The rule of the Constitution is that Congress is not to make a law (teachers praying in class or before an assembly does not constitute making a law). That law is not to respect an establishment of religion (we have no religious establishment in the United States any longer so there are no religious establishments to "respect")

Religious free exercise is the heritage of the American people. It's a part of the Constitution. The American people need to claim it as their heritage until the courts catch up to the American people.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 07, 2011:

Never sugested anything of the kind. You are grasping at straws. Of course some decisions are poor and get reversed. You have made no case that the current decision is unconstitutiional, and the current conservative court has repeatedly held up this interpretation.

Noone is trying to change the COTUS. It is being interpreted in a way you don't like, that's all. Your line that this is no different than the tyrants of history is hilarious and hyperbolic. Tyrants could not have their decisions reversed. You are simply trying to whip up the easily influenced. Good news for you. It frequently works. Rage on. We are not talking about suppression of religion by the government. We are talking about suppression of the government, which is what the establishment clause does.

Dred Scott got reversed. Good luck in your efforts. Even a conservative court won't support your radicalism.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 06, 2011:

Many of your arguments could also be made by someone that supported the Dred Scott decision (1857) after the Court rendered it. He could also claim the high ground because the Court agreed with him. Those that claimed that blacks should be free were the “losers.”

Your position is that the Court agrees with you. Well, “congratulations” are in order. Being in the majority certainly has its advantages. Sadly, your position has the power of government decision, but it lacks historical and constitutional rooting. And if your recourse for your argument is that the Court agrees with you, your position is not only weak, it’s also pathetic.

I think that one of the reasons that decisions like Dred Scott failed in the end is that they were on the wrong side of history. Western nations were moving toward emancipation. They simply could not abide speaking the language of rights while they watched black men chained at the docks and sold on the auction block as chattel.

Suppression of religious speech has been occurring for millennia, but it’s going in the wrong direction of history. Dress it up and call it what you will, it’s suppression. The Court’s position (and apparently yours) is no different than the tyrants of history who have sought to silence the faithful. I am confident that freedom will win out in the end; that the suppression of religious speech by the government will end, but it probably won’t be tomorrow.

A second matter is constitutional interpretation. The Supreme Court does not tell us what is constitutional or unconstitutional (and it certainly does not tell us what’s right and wrong!). Rather, the Court issues an "opinion" on the Constitution. And liberal and conservative jurists alike have recognized that these opinions do not change the Constitution. That's why we say the Court "ruled" an action by government constitutional or unconstitutional. They don't "make" situations constitutional or unconstitutional by decree and they certainly don't change the Constitution in the process. Contrary to what you may think, the Supreme Court is not a perpetual constitutional convention.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 06, 2011:

I have to simply disagree with your analysis, and the courts have agreed with me. The establishment clause IS a restriction on government to use its power to influence the religious debate.

The point of court cases is to determine the constitutionality of this issue, and so far you are on the losing side on this issue.

If you believe these are the wrong decisions, then we are operating under a mistaken application of the COTUS. You are free to believe so, but you'll have to win that argument in court. But that also makes your example of teachers leading prayer up until the 60's irrelevant, because that could simply be a violation that no one was challenging. It's not evidence of what was right or wrong. That is for the courts to decide. I believe it was wrong, and the courts agree. We don't "know it's wrong" because we did it before. Poor argumentation. That proves nothing, except that we were either right then or we are right now.

To me it is a very silly notion to put a policy in place in an educational setting that will force you to constantly monitor something outside the necessary curriculum and force you to move your child if this element is not to your liking. Why not just leave it out. You won't be able to monitor what is being said anyway, so you have opened the door to all kinds of abuse by teachers with heretical ideas.

I feel blessed that the courts are not on your side on this one. The keenest legal minds available today regularly keep your unfair influence on little minds out of the state education process, and leave their spiritual education up to their parents. I know I want that in my hands, and I want math taught at school.

I suck at that.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 05, 2011:

The Establishment Clause cannot be used to restrict the free exercise of religion.

The reason we know that your statement that the "establishment clause restricts that same freedom on the state" is wrong is that teachers were leading children in prayers for most of American history until the 1960s.

My problem with the policy you support is that it’s not constitutional. That should be a sufficient response to persuade you to abandon this policy. And the "silly notion" that you refer to is called "freedom" in America. That's what we do in a free society: we either try to change things to our liking or we adjust to a situation that we find acceptable.

I am taking responsibility for the spiritual formation of my children; that's why I want government to stop suppressing our First Amendment freedom in this matter. Once the government makes the policy, we're no longer responsible. We now have a rule and rules tend to result in the suspending of judgment and discretion.

You know, "silly notions," or claims of irresponsibility won't hide what you're advocating which is the suppression of religious free exercise by the government, something they are wholly forbidden to do. And the more you post, the more that truth is revealed in all its glory.

Let's try something novel, like freedom. Instead of one rigid policy, let's allow the millions of decisions by Americans be the guide like we do for so many other things that we consider "free." That means that we get to enjoy the benefits of making the right choices and have to live with the consequences of making the wrong ones.

I know, I know, freedom is risky. But if the framers of our government were willing to risk securing these liberties for us, then we should at least have the courage to live by them.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 05, 2011:

I have no problem hearing religious ideas and appreciate free exercise. The free exercise gives the freedom to the people, and the establishment clause restricts that same freedom on the state.

I am always confused as to why this is even an issue for you. What is the value of turning over the religious indoctrination of our children to unqualified personnel with little or no background in things theological. What unique role does your trigonometry teacher bring to your prayer life? They are state employees in a public school, and have no right nor any particular skill to lead the children to God. The kids are free to do what they like autonomously from the the influential state employees that have the position to unfairly influence the kids. Once you give them the green light, you have no way of stopping what gets taught by any rogue teacher that you have turned loose. No establishment would mean no way of censoring those voices, and you'd be back to your silly notion that you would just continue to move your children from school to school to avoid teachers that offended you.

Why not just take personal responsibility for the spiritual formation of your children? That seems so much simpler, and clearly constitutional.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 05, 2011:

But what I cannot live with is that your prohibition has no basis in the Constitution. The very reason that the phrase "or prohibit the free exercise thereof" was put in the First Amendment was to keep the government from doing the very thing you’re advocating: suppressing religious free exercise.

I bring you back to the Religion Clause of the First Amendment. Where is the logic in taking an expression like "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" to mean "the courts shall prohibit the free exercise of religion in government schools because 'free exercise' means the right for everyone to have the freedom to not hear an exercise of religion from the teacher."

I can appreciate that you might think that it's a good idea to censure the teacher's religious free speech. But the fact is that’s not your call to make. In the article, I make mention of the fact that we might debate the merits of having individual teachers pray in the classroom. But what I am opposed to is the absolute prohibition on it by the Courts.

It must be pointed out that during this dialog your response to hearing religious speech you disapprove of is to have the government suppress it. I am willing to take my chances with Americans exercising their freedom in this matter. We've gotten along without a single, uniform policy on this matter for a long time. The policy which you advocate of suppressing religious speech has only created more controversy, not less.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on May 05, 2011:

I can live with your argument here, as long as you understand that one of the limits on your First Amendment rights is the right to have government agents indoctrinating our children on the religious front. School personnel don't lead the kids in prayer.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on May 05, 2011:

Only that no right in the Bill of Rights can be pushed as an absolute so that it suppresses the rights of others. For example, you have the right to peaceably assemble, but not in my living room. Laws constrain all rights. No one has an absolute right to practice his religion, speech, print, or assembling without regard to the consequences. That's why even our rights have limits. The constraints in the First Amendment, for example, are on Congress. Technically, they do not apply to the other political actors.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 19, 2011:

What was the point of your comment "No right can be absolutized (sic)...Every right is constrained by law to some degree."

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 18, 2011:

I never said that the exercise of religion by Muslims or wiccans should be restricted. If you would read more closely, you will note that what I said was that the scenario that you espoused where we allow for the free exercise of those religions would be preferable to the way things are now with the suppression of religion. As it stands right now, the government policy is unconstitutional as the government is suppressing religious free exercise. I have my own reservations about wiccans and Muslims praying in schools, but I still think that going by the Constitution is preferable.

You're just going to have to do a better job of reading the posts if we're going to continue this discussion. Let's have more analysis of the issue and less accusation.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 18, 2011:

You are the one suggesting wiccans and atheists be restricted. Limits on rights, didn't you say. You don't really believe what you're espousing.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 17, 2011:

A government worker does not lose his rights because he is an agent of government. I suppose you'll be suggesting next that he lose the right to be protected against cruel and unusual punishment because he is a government worker.

The acknowledgement of the Christian God at government functions was not unconstitutional at the time of the founding and it's not unconstitutional now, as prayers in Congress suggest. As I said earlier, I would prefer the allowance of greater freedom, regardless of the scenarios that you spin. What we have currently is a uniform policy of unbelief. I'm willing to bet on freedom and believe that our nation will be better off in the long run. We’ll just have to work out these problems as we go along. Freedom is a messy business sometimes, but you should try it, it works.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 17, 2011:

But no defense of your position that you could ban wiccan prayer?

What about Muslim prayer? Would you forbid that as well?

Ignoring the issue won't make it go away.

You know what I think? I think you know it can't be defended but you're stuck with the public proclamation of your position.

The people are protected in their free expression, but the state is not. Employees of the state are representative of it while performing their job, and thus can't get all the kids to kneel toward Mecca. When you are prepared to defend that, or teaching the kids proper adherence to Voodoo rituals because that's what the teacher believes, then come back and chat. What you really are advocating is a leap toward theocracy, but you can't defend it constitutionally.

At least that's what all the courts believe.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 17, 2011:

There is an endless string of reasons you can give for why the government should suppress the free exercise of religion. But, we only need one good reason to oppose such an action and that's because Americans are protected from the government's suppression of their religious faith under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Right now, the policy is backwards. The government is worried that they will offend the unbelievers and so they suppress religion. But unbelief is not protected under the Free Exercise Clause. Rather, government should be bending over backwards to insure that it does not offend those that are exercising their right of religious expression under the First Amendment.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 16, 2011:

Why not keep it out of the hands of teachers, which is what the courts have decided, and take responsibility for the religious education of your own child? Why put everyone in the situation you describe, where you will have to be moving your child because they had to listen to someone who they perceive as having authority in their lives and yet have no theological education that would give their words any more authority than anyone else?

You seem to suggest that the law would step in and determine what prayers would be allowed and which forbidden, and you walk right into the establishment problem, don't you? Of course you do.

The public schools are for the public. All of the public. Do what you like in a private setting. The public school is for all Americans, not just the ones like yourself.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 16, 2011:

No right can be absolutized like you express it ("no control of what was said....I could lead the little ones any way I liked..."). Every right is constrained by law to some degree.

Still, I would rather see things as you described them (minus the overblown way you express it) than the way they are currently. You would have your freedom of expression and I would have the freedom to remove my child and place them elsewhere. Even though it would be an inconvenience for me, I think we would all be better off in the long run with less suspicion and suppression of religion and more freedom of religion in the government schools.

The government schools should actually be doing the reverse of what they're doing. They should be going out of their way to not suppress religion. But when it comes to private organizations, I have no problem with a for-profit school or a private school that constrain speech or religious expression. These are private organizations; if you don't like the way they do things, you can take your child elsewhere.

I'm willing to let competition in a constitutional democracy govern here. I believe we will get greater religious expression and a much better educational product than what we're currently getting.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 16, 2011:

But you would have no control of what was said in prayer, would you? No establishment, right? I could lead the little ones any way I liked, couldn't I?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 16, 2011:

I recognize that Rehnquist lost on that vote, but I did not quote him because he won! I quoted it because of its truthfulness. The Wall of Separation has not been helpful as a legal principle. When the court adopts a legal principle, it should "settle the law" in that area. But the Wall of Separation has not done that. The Lemon Test (1971) that the Court adopted looked promising at one time (this is all predicated, of course, on your buying into the Wall of Separation fraud). Today, the Court arbitrarily uses the Lemon Test for Establishment Clause cases. As James Q. Wilson has noted, the Lemon Test is a "lemon."

Let me remind you that Justices McClean and Curtis dissented and lost in Dred Scott (1857).

Furthermore, the Wall of Separation is based on bad history. Perhaps it needs to be restated that the Wall of Separation was not an idea that originated from the Constitutional framers. It did not enter America's jurisprudential vocabulary until 1878 and the modern Hugo Black's (note, not Jefferson's) version became the holy writ of the Court in 1947. Repeating the mantra won't make it any more historical, let alone constitutional.

As for the wiccan praying, no, I said "God," the God whose moral principles are the foundation for the legal and constitutional system of the United States.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 16, 2011:

There is a reason it was the minority opinion in this case.

He lost that battle.

Would you be as gracious if I was a wiccan teacher praying to the mother God?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 15, 2011:

I have little to say about the way the Free Exercise Clause has gone, although both liberals and conservatives were deeply troubled by Oregon v. Smith (1990) and the gutting of the Compelling Government Interest Test. Some of the state RFRA laws have helped to shore that up.

As for the Establishment Clause (as I have reiterated) praying in school is not leading "the kiddies in worship." You make it sound like they're going to conduct an alter call and break out singing "Just As I Am" at any moment.

The Framers did not believe that when chaplains were leading the Congress in prayer that they were conducting a church service. When they had prayer services in the Congress or when Washington called on the nation to pray, they certainly did not think that there was any violation of the Establishment Clause.

Much of the confusion on this matter has to do with our understanding of religion v. theirs. Today, we associate anything of a religious nature as being something "churchy." The framer's definition of religion was more narrow, being that religion was those duties which we owed to our Creator and the means of discharging those duties. This was the understanding of George Mason, James Madison and was the definition of religion that the Court adopted in the late 19th century.

In short, an acknowledgement of God by government and in the schools is not "religion"; it is secular. Making something "religious" just because it invokes "God" is an atheistic attitude, not a traditional American one.

And why should I mind if you pray in front of my kids? Gratefulness to God and an acknowledgment of Him is always appropriate and right, regardless of who is praying it.

A teacher that acknowledges God in prayer in front of school children is not doing anything unconstitutional. The Wall of Separation is an imposition on the Establishment Clause. It is nothing less than rank sloganizing of a constitutional principle. Chief Justice Rehnquist was right in his dissent in Jaffree (1985) when he said that “The ‘wall of separation between church and State’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.”

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 07, 2011:

Ok, since you have backed off beating up on them I can stop having to defend them.

There is no doubt that schools have made some very bad decisions regarding what rights students have in expressing their religious beliefs. The very good news is that the courts have nearly always sided with the students, thanks to some robust attorney work. Schools over-step, the courts right the wrong, and the world turns. That is in the VAST majority of cases. This is the state of the state regarding the free expression clause.

But in regards to the establishment clause, the courts have chosen to err on the side of caution, wanting the state to give no hint of preference in regard to one faith tradition or another. Thus, representatives of the state are not allowed to lead the kiddies in worship, lest the implication be that this is the faith they should follow. I'm in total agreement with this, as children are vulnerable and teachers are symbols of authority, and those that have a different tradition are singled out in such a situation, to no purpose.

You may not like it, but that is how the courts have parsed the argument. I think it is exactly correct. Kids are free to pray anywhere at anytime.

Let's put it this way. If I was your kid's history teacher, would you want ME leading him in prayer?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 07, 2011:


The ACLU attorneys could be statue-like saints, dripping with dogoodness, the last bulwark of civil liberties, but that's irrelevant to my argument.

I have answered the arguments you have made against prayer in schools and religious free exercise. You need to get back on topic if we're going to continue the discussion.

thebrucebeat on April 07, 2011:

The ACLU is very relevant because people like yourself who want to believe their faith is under attack often use them as a bogeyman, and it's simply a false premise. I can show you dozens of cases where they go to bat for the free exercise clause. Why should you find fault with that? It is something to celebrate, not mock. The ACLU as anti-Christ is a bogus argument. They are a vehement defender of free exercise, and a careful watchdog over establishment. That's just as it should be.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 07, 2011:


Citing cases where the ACLU may have labored to uphold religious free exercise is off-topic for this article. It's an odd reply to the argument that we should allow prayer in schools for you to then say, "but the ACLU are really nice guys; they sometimes defend religious free exercise." The ACLU is not at issue here; the suppression of the right to religious free exercise is the issue. As for the ACLU getting it right on occasion, I am reminded of the observation that "even a broken clock is right twice a day."

thebrucebeat on April 05, 2011:

Iguess you can stick to that argument if the ACLU cases I cited are not allowed on this comment tree. Such cowardice.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 05, 2011:


Listen to your comments: "The inference that has repeatedly been upheld in the courts." Religious freedom is not to be squelched on an "inference."

"...public officials leading prayer implies an endorsement of a religion." So, we're going to suppress freedom of religious expression on an "implication"?

Do we suppress speech on an "implication" that it is dangerous? Or convict people in a court of law because they were "implicated" in a crime?

Freedom of religion is not on the defense; people that want to suppress it are. The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses make no reference to the distinction between "public prayer" and "public prayer led by an official." This is a fabrication created by "living constitutionalists" who foisted their own secular vision on the rest of the nation.

Since you like "inferring," then infer this: chaplains who lead the Congress in prayer were (and "are") paid out of the federal treasury. Here we have officials leading other officials in prayer at the time that the Establishment Clause was being drafted and passed. Furthermore, at the same time, Congress called on President Washington to declare a day of prayer and thanksgiving to God.

As for the article, I like Stephen Carter; he's wrong on this one. The fact is that bad people sometimes do good things to cover their tracks and good people sometime blow it. The ACLU has done more to undermine religious freedom than any organization that I know of. They take the token "religious freedom" case from time to time to cover their many misdeeds.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 05, 2011:

Not on public prayer, but publicly lead prayer. The inference that has repeatedly been upheld in the courts is that public officials leading prayer implies an endorsement of a religion. What's the problem? Do we Christians need to have government workers endorsing our religion to legitimize it?

Did you enjoy the article?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 05, 2011:


Do you think that passage is condemning public prayer? Jesus was giving an example of what the hypocrites do "to be seen by men." This is not a denouncement of public prayer. It is a rebuke to hypocrites who use public prayers so as to be seen by all. Public prayer is not on trial in Matthew passage; the antics of the Pharisees are.

Extending your logic, any public prayer is an act of hypocrisy. Prayer before a meal in a restaurant? Prayer in church (it's a public place)? Context is everything, Bruce. Jesus prayed in public!

Back up two chapters from Matthew 6 and you'll find that even the Devil can quote scripture.

But, back to the main point, which is that even if there were a biblical prohibition on public prayer (and there isn't), there is no constitutional prohibition on it.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 04, 2011:

New International Version (©1984)

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." Matthew 6:5

There's your bigotry, if that is what you choose to call scripture. There is plenty more in Matthew and Mark. Would you like me to show them to you? Or will you choose not to post this comment as well?

If you have the courage, here's an article from Christianity Today that you might find interesting.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 02, 2011:


Listen to yourself: "There is no restriction on prayer, just on prayer led by public employees..." That is a restriction on prayer! Furthermore, prayer by public employees is neither implicitly or explicitly an establishment. Prayer has been offered before government-sanctioned events throughout our history.

But, more to the point, it’s simply not true that the gag rule only applies to public employees. Many children have been intimidated for even the mentioning of God, let alone prayer. If you will take time to educate yourself, you can go to sites like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Rutherford Institute and read about the regular intimidation that our children receive for their religious faith in the schools. This coming year a number of valedictorians and salutatorians will be told that they cannot mention God, Jesus, or say a prayer. They are not even public employees, but their right of free exercise of their religion will be rudely violated. And the ACLU won't be spending a dime to help them.

Finally, the ACLU most certainly does not protect the rights of children to pray in schools. In fact, the ACLU has promulgated the atmosphere of intimidation that American children receive in an educational environment that is often hostile to their faith.

As for the last comment, I don't know what to make of it except that it sounds like rank religious bigotry. Praying publicly is a right and has been a rich part of this nation's heritage.

thebrucebeat on April 02, 2011:

There is no restriction on prayer, just on prayer led by public employees which implies an establishment. The ACLU has protected the rights of kids to pray at school.

The bible does speak of those that make a public spectacle of their prayer lives.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on April 01, 2011:


The point is that there should be no national prohibition against prayers in school, period. It violates the free exercise of religion as given in the First Amendment. Teacher-led and student-led prayers are not an imposition of religion, per se and violate no one's rights. No one has a right not to hear something in this country. There is also no biblical prohibition on public prayer either. Thanks for reading and your comments.

thebrucebeat from Nags Head, NC on April 01, 2011:

This is silly. There is no absolute prohibition against prayer in schools, only publicly lead prayer. No one can be stopped from praying at any time or anywhere. No one will try. You just can't do it over the loudspeaker or lead others in it. Where's the harm, folks? Jesus said to go into a room, close the door and pray to your Father in private. What is the great need to make it a public spectacle?

Read my hub here. See why America is really a great ally to the Christian AND to the non-religious.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on December 02, 2010:


First, while James Madison did introduce those amendments that came to be the Bill of Rights, the wording of the First Amendment that was adopted was that of Fisher Ames, not James Madison’s. Second, the same Congress that proposed the wording of the First Amendment called on George Washington to declare a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer (which he did). Apparently, they did not see themselves as an “ecclesiastical body.” Furthermore, Congress has regular prayers prior to sessions; no one thinks of them as an "ecclesiastical body" even though they have ordained ministers pray. Third, a daily acknowledgment of God by school children is not an "encroachment by ecclesiastical bodies." Fourth, my comment still stands: church and state are institutions; religion and politics are behaviors. You can separate institutions (which I favor); you cannot remove religious behavior from government without violating the free exercise of religion which is also guaranteed in the First Amendment. Finally, I’m not advocating mandatory prayer in school; I’m opposing its absolute prohibition. Americans have the right to make this choice of whether to pray or not pray.

Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments.

Larry Allen Brown from Brattleboro Vermont on December 02, 2010:

>"However, “separation of church and state” does not mean the separation of religion and politics"<

If by politics you mean government, then somebody forgot to tell James Madison. Madison said this in his "Detached Memoranda":

"The danger of silent accumulations & encroachments by Ecclesiastical Bodies have not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S. Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history."

As you can see by the very guy that wrote the first Amendment, Madison was concerned over what he considered the "danger" of enchroachment of Ecclesiasticl Bodies into the structure of Government. So I guess my question is who should I listen to on this subject? Your interpretation of what he wrote, or the words of the man who wrote it in the first place?

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on November 29, 2010:

AdamWest, What you are advocating is that we uphold a ban on prayer in schools because we have differing religious beliefs. That makes about as much sense as banning the teaching of civics because people differ on their political views or banning history because people differ on historical interpretation.

The fact is, you are advocating the suppression of religious freedom in the public. Every suppressor of freedom tries to paint the behavior he loathes as "dangerous" to freedom. Good luck trying to prove that the suppression of religious freedom actually advances freedom. A child praying in school is not an "establishment of religion"; that is a distortion of the original meaning of the concept.

But, besides all that, I'm sure I'm not the only one that is curious to know....

Are you related to Batman? Thanks for tuning in.

AdamWest1 on November 29, 2010:

You all crack me up. Blame it on the athiests. Not on other religions that might have been offended..

The scariest part is not that you are peddling this stuff, its that you actually believe it.

Have you even examined the historical records? Why many people came to the colonies back in the 1600's in the first place? Leaving a place where people were killing people, being persecuted, for not having the same faith as the state.

Our founding fathers wanted to be sure that our new government never had a state religion. No one had the right, not even the state, to tell someone else how to believe, or not believe.

What is at odds is Christianity and The Seperation of Church and State. Christians are told to "spread the word of God", which most due in many aspects of their lives, which to many includes pushing it into government.

They could care less that is not want the founding fathers wanted. They could care less it violates Seperation of Church and State. Just spread the "word"

around as far and as wide as they can.

The most important body of writing to me is the Constitution. Written by men. What is the most important body of writing to Christians? Since we

know its not the Constitution, I'm going to go out on a

limb and say they don't have it's best interest at heart.

And for the record, we DO respect all religions. But there is a fine line for allowing them to practice their religion and not allowing them to interfere with the free speach and expression of others while they practice. On this subject, you are opening up such a big can of worms it would take ten articles this same size to get into it. But your generalized statement is flawed.

If you want prayer in school, have it in your church ran school. But in public schools, where you have a mixture of all different cultures and backgrounds and beliefs, and even non beliefs, prayer does not belong.

William R Bowen Jr (author) from New Bern, NC on October 09, 2010:

Onegoodwoman, Given the following two scenarios:

1. Suppress the right to acknowledge God and suppress one's religion in the schools (which is what we are currently doing)


2. Be offended by the exercise of someone else's faith

I pick the 2nd one as the least onerous.

I am regularly offended by religious ideas that don't conform to my own, but we are supposed to live in a free society where people can express their ideas, religious or otherwise. I prefer a society where we can all express our ideas equally and be offended equally. I believe this was the society our founders gave us.

But atheists have imposed a regime on our public schools where the young have their religious freedoms suppressed and the faith of our nation berated or whitewashed from view.

This is intolerable.

Schools and their communities should have the right to embrace what religious belief they desire. Those that don't like it can go elsewhere (and that goes double for me). We should value a system that allows for diversity of expression with many schools that can pursue their views about education, rooted in their most-basic beliefs.

Let freedom ring. Let those that excel through the power of their ideas do so. Let those that are failing (and our schools are failing our children.....badly) learn from the example of those that are doing it right. But let's not have a monopoly of one opinion, the opinion of atheism, that suppresses all religions, except the ones they fear.

Thanks for stopping by and weighing in on this important topic.

onegoodwoman from A small southern town on October 09, 2010:

Impose or allow? That is the question........

The term " seperation of church and state" DOES NOT appear in the USofA constitution........the idea reflected, is that the government may NOT impose a religion.

Everything about our founding fathers, and leaders of the time will not be found in either the Constitution or Declaration of Independence........there is far too much to be recorded there..You and I must research, read diaries, letters, newspaper accounts of the era.....we must SEARCH......

Does another "religion" have the same freedom of expression that I enjoy.......yes, I think it does......but not to the extent that it suppresses mine.

You are allowed to believe what you believe, you are not allowed to suppress what I believe.

That seems fair to me.......

No, I do not want my child, instructed in prayer by another I will give you, a " moment of meditation". What more do you expect me to give without sacrificing self?

In order to live under a democarcy, the law of the land ( majority) must prevail........if your "religion" is in oppostion to the laws of the best seek another home.

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