Religion And Prayer In Public Schools

1518 words - 7 pages

Religion in Public Schools

The practice of religion has been a major factor in American culture for centuries. The religion clause of the First Amendment, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," was developed to preserve the freedom of religion (Haynes 2). The religion clause was designed to protect religion from the control of the government, but, consequently, it restricts the expression of religion in public institutions such as public schools. This highly debated issue of religion in public schools is supported by the belief that religion is critical to the formation of a healthy society ...view middle of the document...

ed). Even with these guidelines, the debate over the extent of religion in public schools continues.

Favoring a loose interpretation of the religion clause are the supporters of the interaction between religion and the public school. These people firmly believe that religion should have an active role in the school curriculum. Charles C. Haynes, the scholar-in-residence at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, participates in the fight to introduce religion into the public school curriculum. In April of 1996 during an interview with Ron Brandt, Haynes stated that under the First Amendment public schools may neither promote nor obstruct religion. Haynes believes that schools must be neutral, and neutrality means fairness even in regards to the curriculum. Haynes concedes that "promoting student freedom of co nscience and recognizing religion . . . in the curriculum creates a school culture in which no one imposes religious beliefs or practices on others . . ." (73). In his own article, Haynes discusses the possible risks of including religion in public school curriculum. He concludes that to integrate religion into the curriculum could risk the separation of the government from the church, but the greater risk is not to do so (Haynes 2). Haynes' opinion conflicts drastically with the opinions of those who take the opposite interpretation of the religion clause.

Promoters of a strict interpretation of the First Amendment believe protecting religious freedom can only be accomplished through the complete separation of the church and state. Mark Tekano presents in his article, "Separation Anxiety," some of the reasons people strongly believe in this separation. He states that many people are still concerned that allowing prayer in public schools' curriculums will mingle religion and civil authority, which could lead to the establishment of a state religion. Takano states that "the ultimate harm of mixing religion with politics is the eventual discrediting of religion." He also believes that to think the spiritual life of society will be improved through the implementation of religion i nto public schools is a mistake (1995). However, this opinion that society does not benefit from religion in the school is not held by all. People who disagree with the separation of the church and the state argue that religion is vital to forming a soc iety with strict morals and strong faith.

Promoters of the increased use of religion in the public school system feel that religion is, in fact, very beneficial to students. They feel that religion provides a tradition and a community in which people can find their identity as well as a s ense of stability. Religion is also believed to supply the answers to questions about pain, suffering, and death. One study discussed in the book School Wars reports the advantages religiously affiliated students have over nonaffiliated students. The study...

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