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Religion in schools - To pray or not to pray

Updated on February 28, 2015

Why have we banned prayer from schools?

Opinions vary greatly on this subject, and many school boards in Canada have opted for keeping prayers out of schools. Yet spiritualism is an important part of our lives, no matter what the faith. In many ways it defines us, and we are guided by it, in the choices we make during our lives. Yet it seems that many people are so uncomfortable with it, that prayer is now being pushed out of schools, in order to simplify things in our multicultural society.

Atheism is also a choice that must be respected

In a couple of the comments that this article received below, it was rightfully pointed out to me, that I had not included atheism as choice, and for that I apologize. I also want to make it clear, that I absolutely am in favor of separation of church and state. I am simply trying to suggest a way we could promote tolerance and acceptance or understanding in some small ways between all people regardless of their beliefs, spiritual or otherwise.

I have written this article with the best intent, and based on my experiences in life. The opinions and observations are my own, and I thank both Adiago and Wilderness for their well thought out, and valuable input, and encourage readers of this article to read their comments as well.

What are we afraid of?

Prayer and reflection

Over the years, in my travels, I have been witness to various ways of praying, or in the case of non religious people, deep reflection.

The one thing that struck me in all cases, was the sense of setting aside oneself, a humbling attitude, that is helpful in keeping us grounded, and a devotion to, or recognition of, a higher power, (for some it is the Almighty, where for others, it is Universal law or balance). In any case, whenever done with a peaceful and selfless mindset , it is always beautiful and touching to observe.

What's more, we all seem comfortable with behavior and displays in public, that I would consider a lot less endearing to watch, than prayer.

Like the cuisine of different cultures, the music differs greatly as well, but we are not afraid of sharing that, nor should we be, because it also provides an enriching experience. Whenever I have traveled to other countries, I have always eaten the local foods, enjoyed the local music, and visited the smaller towns, as a way of getting to know the people and their culture better. The tourist attraction of the bigger cities are worth seeing of course, but it is the people in their everyday lives, that provides the real charm and understanding of a culture. Why then should we be adverse to, or afraid of, the diversity of faith in different cultures? It seems to me a very outdated attitude?

Did we miss a great opportunity here?

Rather than embrace a great opportunity, we have made prayer seem like a taboo.

Did we miss the opportunity to teach cultural tolerance, on such an important subject, and did we underline that missed opportunity by making any kind of prayer in school seem inappropriate? It seems to me that this choice was not in anyone's favor. I am not suggesting hour long lessons on various religions, or beliefs, simply that everyone shows tolerance to the beliefs of everyone present.

Would it be so hard or so wrong to treat this as an opportunity to teach tolerance?

How hard would it be to simply explain to young students that people worship in different ways, and spiritual beliefs are equally important to us all. Should we not encourage the students to be respectful of the various ways to worship, or choice not to, and allow each group to get together (possibly at assembly) to reflect on the day ahead, each in their own way. Instead of hiding from each other, would it not create tolerance and understanding to have it out in the open?

Fear of the unknown

It is not a matter of making school time a religious experience, but as our beliefs are such an integral part of us, I don't feel it should be seen as inappropriate public behavior, as this will only create 'fear of the unknown' so to speak. I am not suggesting we make the school day into a continuous religious experience, just that we recognize the social importance of recognition and respect, for what is a very important part of how we see ourselves.

A college promoting the spirit of welcome and inclusion

Food! Where we excel at cultural tolerance

Exposure to the culinary delights of many cultures

As a society, we have become not only very intolerant, but even appreciative of other cultures cuisine. This is very beneficial, as every culture can contribute some amazing dishes, in many cases both healthy and exquisite, thereby providing us all with a tremendous variety, that would not otherwise have been possible. This integration of culinary varieties did not happen overnight, nor did everyone immediately view that as a great benefit. It has taken years of gradual exposure, to get us where we are now.

Our cities and towns tell the tale

All we have to do is walk down the street in the commercial section of any city in Canada, and we will see restaurants serving dishes that originates from various cultures. That is not a strange site. Many of us, (if not most) take advantage of such a large selection regularly. Many have even learned to cook dishes that were not native to them. And all this has happened because we have had exposure to these many culinary delights, and we have learned to accept and enjoy this, even take it for granted.

If we were similarly exposed to each others belief systems, and got to know a little bit of what is 'in the heart' of others, I believe it would create understanding and acceptance. It does not mean that anyone should consider changing their faith, but simply gain understanding and acceptance of one another.

Different but both delicious

School Is Meant for Getting Children Ready to Function in Society

Teachers are already teaching zero tolerance to violence

Because so much of the waking time of school aged children is spent in school, I believe that it is imperative to include certain guidelines for acceptable social behavior. For example, we have already adopted the zero tolerance to violence in the school, but would in not be helpful to foster acceptance and respect for each other at an early age, by not hiding our diversity, but rather bringing it out in the open. I don't see it taking a significant amount of time out of the day to incorporate morning prayer or reflection at assembly for all, and I believe it would go a long way to help make every child feel accepted and at home in a place where they spend so many hours of their young and impressionable lives. That in turn should help create added constructive interaction among children of various backgrounds, and bring about a healthy attitude in individuals who may be struggling to understanding each other.

It could be argued that the children should be taught these things at home, but the fact is, that it is generally when they are at school, that the children are exposed to the biggest cultural variety, so it would follow that school would be the natural and most effective place to teach tolerance. Religious or otherwise.

Beautiful multicultural event in Cleveland USA

The political side of cultural issues

What are the guidelines that schoolboards use, to arrive at decisions regarding cultural issues.

I am not very familiar with those, but I am sure they are complex and varied, and their decision may be justified given the information they were considering. Finding a simple 'fix' for cultural issues is a rarity to say the least. History has taught us that.

However, I just feel that 'hiding' our differences is not a solution in a multicultural society. In fact, I see it as counterproductive. It seems like we are taking the easy way out, but I think we will pay for it in the long run. These thoughts are of course just my opinion, and I am curious to learn the opinion of any person living in Canada, no matter what the cultural background is. The more varied the backgrounds of the comment sources, the better. We are after all multicultural, and proud of it. It is however up to all of us, regardless of our background cultures to be be tolerant with each other. Multiculturalism is a combined effort of each and everyone living in Canada, and a responsibility we should be taking seriously. If we do, we have a good chance to get rid of the bad experiences people have at school, workforce or other places we share.

I welcome and value any comments that are made in a thoughtful manner.

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    • JSI profile image
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      Yvonne Jones 3 years ago from Huntsville, Ontario Canada

      Hi Wilderness

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I will point out that I have a huge amount of regards for others, and I apologize for not expressing myself clearly in my article. I have explained myself better, I hope, in my return comment to Adiago. Maybe I can get you to take a peek at that, rather than me repeating myself :-).

      I do very much agree with your observation on what happens when 'religions' get too much power. History is proof of that, and that is exactly why I am not a member of any religious organization.

      I should have made more effort to clearly include atheists in the article, and for that omission I apologize. My point was only to try to minimize lack of understanding and fear of the unknown from all sides, as I have explained in the comment above. I still believe that hiding it away from public view will cause more damage than good. My observations and opinions in the article are just that, and I am not promoting religion in any way. If I were to promote anything it would be individual spiritualism, but my point here was to lower negative feelings and ignorance, by broadening the views of all sides a little.

      I may be a bit idealistic :-)

      I do however, appreciate and understand your comments, and would never force religion, atheism or any other belief on anyone. I do however accept that others have different views or beliefs, than I have, and count many such people among my friends.

    • JSI profile image
      Author

      Yvonne Jones 3 years ago from Huntsville, Ontario Canada

      Hi Adagio4639

      Thank you for your excellent comments and points.

      First let me say that I agree with you on most of your points. I do not want religion taught in schools.

      I do not personally belong to any religious organization, although I would not consider myself an atheist. My maternal grandfather, whom I consider to be one of the most decent and morally upstanding persons I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, was an atheist.

      My point is simple, that because personal beliefs are often a very touchy subject, ( what is the saying....'more wars have been fought due to politics and religion than any other subject') and we are a multicultural society, it is my opinion, that it is a good subject for teaching tolerance and understanding, or at least acceptance.

      Lack of understanding or ignorance often create fear of the unknown, which in turn can lead to hatred.

      The easiest time in a persons life to change attitudes, is when they are young, so I felt a couple of minutes in quiet individual prayer or reflection where each person can think what they choose, and express it quietly in their own way, would aide everybody to accept and understand very basic diversities.

      I am not saying that teachers should lead the kids in prayer, nor am I debating whether, or not, God exists, because as you so correctly stated, that is a circular argument, and not my point at all.

      Also, I am not suggesting that the children takes a course in diverse beliefs or atheism, but simply learn to live with diversity. And I feel that, because children spend a lot of time subjected to diversity in school, it would be a way of teaching tolerance without spending a lot time on it.

      This is only my opinion, and I value your thoughts and the time you took to comment. I do apologize for the shortcomings of my article which led you to believe that I was promoting religion of any kind or atheism in schools.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      I have to go with Adagio here: much of your reasoning appears to be from your personal beliefs without particular regard to beliefs or desires of others.

      But beyond that, I don't find it reasonable that the strong or majority be given free reign to impose their beliefs onto others. Every time that has happened the country has deteriorated into a religion controlled state and always with disastrous results. We currently see this in the near East and it is not something most of us would ever wish to have happen to our homeland. It's easy to say that "My religion wouldn't do those evil things", but history tells another tale - Christianity HAS acted in a very similar manner as the extremists of Islam, and has done so every time it had the power to.

      So keep religion and government at arms length. Do not force ANY religion on our children in schools, whether Christianity, Islam, Paganism or any other form of belief. Leave those teachings to the home or church, where they belong. And don't mistake of saying that forced prayer (or even "quiet time") as anything but forced religion; it is intended and used to teach impressionable children about whatever god the local peoples find important in their life. Not to give students a time and place to speak with their god - that can be done any time, anyplace. Just not publicly, which is fine.

    • adagio4639 profile image

      adagio4639 3 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

      Hi. I'm in the states, so I'm not familiar with Canada's position on this subject. I can tell you that we don't do that here. Religion is really important to a lot of people down here. In fact, we may be the most "religious" country on earth, and we have this fight over prayer and religion being taught in our public schools, and religion always loses that fight. And that's because despite our religious nature, we are a secular country when it comes to our governance, and our public schools use taxpayer dollars for their funding. There is no way that we are going to teach the tenets and doctrines of any religion at the expense of some others less represented in our society. Nobody is going to pay to have their child proselytized by some religion they don't believe in. We have a separation of church and state in this country, and the schools are part of the state. Private schools can teach all the religion they want. They're private and can do that. So if you want religion taught to your child, then you should pay for that and not expect others to foot the bill for something as personal as YOUR religion.

      You opened your essay with this: "Yet spiritualism is an important part of our lives, no matter what the faith. In many ways it defines us, and we are guided by it, in the choices we make during our lives." You say this as though it's a fact, when actually its an opinion on your part. I'm sure you think that it's an important part of our lives. After all, you said it. But that doesn't prove or demonstrate that it is. And when you say in many ways it defines us and guides us, you don't demonstrate why that is true. There are millions of atheists that would deny that as having any relevance whatsoever to their lives. So essentially the statement that you open with, "Begs the Question". It takes the form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premises. An argument begs the question when it assumes any controversial point not conceded by the other side. An argument is circular if its conclusion is among its premises, if it assumes (either explicitly or not) what it is trying to prove. Such arguments are said to beg the question. A circular argument fails as a proof because it will only be judged to be sound by those who already accept its conclusion.

      A more complex but equally fallacious type of circular reasoning is to create a circular chain of reasoning like this one: “God exists.” “How do you know that God exists?” “The Bible says so.” “Why should I believe the Bible?” “Because it’s the inspired word of God.” According to who? “According to the Bible.”

      The so-called “final proof” relies on unproven evidence set forth initially as the subject of debate. Basically, the argument goes in an endless circle, with each step of the argument relying on a previous one, which in turn relies on the first argument yet to be proven. Surely, God deserves a more intelligible argument than the circular reasoning proposed in this example!

      From what I can see, it would probably be far more valuable to teach Critical Thinking in the schools in Canada and the US and let the religious among us spend our time in church with priests, preachers, and rabbi's who sort of specialize in matters that are spiritual. Isn't that what they're for? I don't think it's the schools job to teach religion. That's the domain of the church. I doubt you'd want the church to teach your kids Algebra, so why have the schools teach your kids religions ( which one??)

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