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Pursuasive Government Speech: Prayer in Schools

Updated on September 22, 2014

The issue of prayer has been of great concern for students and parents for the past fifty years. In 1963, Madalyn Murray O' Hair took her anti prayer campaign all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. On June 17, 1963, the Supreme Court ruled in the hallmark case Murray v. Curlett, which outlawed mandatory prayer in all American public schools. Since that decision, many constitutional experts have debated whether this was legal or not. The First Amendment states "Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the Government for a redress of grievances." There are many arguments lobbing for both pro and against prayer in school, even 51-years later.

History shows that even our forefathers worried about public prayer, not just in government but in schools as well. Ben Franklin took a stand to bring prayer to the attention of those at the Constitutional convention. He stood up during the convention and said, " In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had our daily prayers in the room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered"¦ and have we forgotten this powerful Friend?". Our country was founded on the prayers of our forefathers and the citizens of that time.

Supporters of school in prayer find a strong correlation between the decision made in 1963 and a moral decline since that time. Supporters feel that since students in schools have not been taught what prayer is, and how to pray correctly, the morals and behavior of students have gone downhill. Though, one could argue that it is not the responsibility of the teacher or the school to teach a student anything on religion, it is the responsibility of the parent and their church, synagogue, or mosque.

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett revealed in his cultural indexes that between 1960 and 1990,there was a steady moral decline which led to risky behavior. During this period, divorce doubled, teenage pregnancy went up 200%, teen suicide increased 300%, child abuse reached an all-time high, violent crime went up 500%, and abortion increased 1000%.

Supporters state that the majority should rule. The public opinion has strongly opposed the Supreme Courts decision in 1962. National polls have been taken repeatedly over the years show that the majority of Americans favor organized prayer in public schools. Supporters argue that it is undemocratic to stop the majority favor because of the minority.

Despite the many Supreme Court rulings, many people claim that the Constitution protects school prayer. The first amendment does not separate God and government but actually encourages it. The establishment clause was only intended to stop state religion. The Free Exercise Clause requires the government to accommodate religious observances in public life. Many people believe that student led school prayers violates our first amendment right to practice religion without government interference.

However. there are many groups who stand behind the courts rulings. The ACLU is one of the loudest voices in the fight to keep our schools prayer free. Other groups joining them are the Anti Deflation League, American Atheists, American Jewish Congress and Americans for Separation of Church and State.

In contrast. to school prayer supporters, the opponents of prayer in school find no correlation in prayer and the decline in society. There is no evidence that proves of prayer in school relate social problems to poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity.


Graphic from opponents of prayer in school.
Graphic from opponents of prayer in school.

Opponents of prayer in school claim that it goes against the First Amendment. "According to their interpretation, the Establishment Clause proscribes the establishment of religion in general including religious practices. Since prayer is a religious exercise, state supported prayer amounts to the establishment of a religious practice and is therefore unconstitutional.". Opponents also state that prayer violates the Free Exercise Clause by making students pray against their will or forcing them to leave to avoid hearing prayers.

It is a fact that in 1995 the government set out guidelines to protect religious freedom in schools. They said, " Students have the right to pray privately and individually in school, and had the right to meet in religious groups on school grounds and to use school facilities like any other groups."

Opponents state that a prayer amendment will cause religious diversity and breed intolerance. Students of minority religions may feel uncomfortable praying with students of different beliefs. Some students may feel pressure to participate and may receive judgment from the teachers.

On September 15 1999, on Capitol Hill, Rep, Earnest Istook, an Oklahoma Republican, reintroduced a proposed amendment to the constitution that would secure the peoples right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience. It was backed by 57 co-sponsors, most of them Republican. The amendment stated "˜ The people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed.'

It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future of our nation. With many tragedies happening and a moral decline in society our nations majority seems to favor prayer. As for now it seems the minority who opposes prayer has upper hand with the Supreme Court decision in 1963. But amendments are being worked on and new one's are being proposed.

Do You Think Organized Prayer Should be Legal in Public Schools?

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      I like the silent prayer no one talks no one leaves. If you do not want to pray don't do anything, just be quiet. Back in the 1960s we had 5 minutes what's the big deal? Interesting Hub.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you, Eric.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      That is very true!

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Where in the South?

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you Ms. Johnathan, your right it is a pretty tricky situation.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you for your comments, I respect your opinion.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      I agree. Thanks for reading my hub, Tricia, I always enjoy reading your comments.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      That you Ms. Tate for reading my hub and commenting. It is a really tricky situation, I can see both sides of the argument. I just wish people who wish to pray can pray,

      And those who don't, don't.

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you, Vkwok! Thanks for checking out my hub!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      This is an interesting article about a historic issue, Alli.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      When I went to public school I remember classmates honoring the American flag, but no group prayer took place inside the classroom. Prayer was enforced at the Catholic Church during catechism. Religion can be difficult in school because there are so many denominations. But most schools adhere to traditional Christian practices. I don't understand why religious prayer is such a problem this day and age. I think when I went to school they both institutions had it right. The schools taught children and the church made them pray.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I always believed that everyone was entitled to be or not to be religious. However it seems like the non-religious people are "winning" as religious people seem to have to make all the adjustments to accommodate them. This country was founded and established in religious values; and I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed that we seem to be going down-hill on a sliding scale.

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      Tricia Deed 3 years ago

      There should be prayer in school. In my opinion prayer helps to reinforce hope and faith. Through the years I have watched what happens as prayer is removed from the school. Bad news...bad kids. Overly simplified the human being needs hope and faith to experience being good, otherwise one does not care for self or others.

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing the facts and your opinion. I'm one of those Christians who don't think there should a public prayer said in schools. All children have the right to say silent prayers at any time they're on school property and no one is stopping them. If a group of kids want to pray together, they shouldn't be forbidden to do so. We can't and shouldn't force our beliefs and practices on other people. Doing so only makes the situation worse. Yes, it's up to the parents and religious institutions to teach morals and the good kids should be leading by example by showing good behavior. Unfortunately, we also should know that kids who profess to be Christians are sometimes the ones who are doing the worst things.

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 3 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      America has become so diverse this issue is hotter now than it was in the 60's. The last school I taught at tried a middle ground approach. Once a day, during announcements, there was offered up a moment of silence with the idea being that was when kids could pray. It didn't work since that was never told to them, only to be silent. Further, it seems to me small children would benefit from being led in prayer but that is highly illegal. Students of some faiths were allowed special passes to leave class at certain times to pray but others of different religions were not allowed to do so nor to meet in groups of others of similar faith during school time. I don't see this issue getting better in our schools any time soon and God knows the behavior is on a steady decline.

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 3 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      Good Hub! This is a sensitive subject; one which has caused some parents to teach their children from home. Personally, I know that prayer encourage positive energy. My concern would be when it is not clear whether the name of God is in the prayer.

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      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      I feel like I'm still living in the 19th century sometimes, but then, I grew up in the south in America.

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      shraddhachawla 3 years ago

      There are different religions but there is only one God. Every religion teaches us to be good human beings, so according to me there is nothing wrong in having a daily prayer service in schools, on the contrary it helps build virtues in children in there tender years. Great hub !

    • Alli Rose profile image
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      Alli Rose Smith 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you, Eric.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very well done lay out of the issue. Useful with great information and great citation to historical facts.