I don’t think I’ll be signing this petition. Here’s why:
First, there is no prohibition against individual prayer in public schools. Any student is free to pray to whatever deity he or she worships at will. As some wit once wrote, “So long as algebra is required for graduation, there will always be prayer in the public schools.”
What is prohibited is forcing prayer upon the unwilling, or telling persons how they should pray, or whether they should pray. Not all prayers are identical, because no two religions are identical, and what is required and encouraged in one faith may be sacrilegious in another.
For example, Catholics believe that one may address intercessory prayers to saints. They view this not as idolatry, but rather as requesting the saint in qustion to add his or her behests to God in addition to those of the mortal praying, just as people in COGIC may ask fellow churchgoers to pray for them in times of trial. However, many Protestants feel that such prayers are sacrilegious, treating the saints as minor or lesser deities? Should a Catholic schoolteacher have the authority to oblige his non-Catholic students to follow her religion?
Conversely, suppose it is a non-Catholic student or teacher leading the prayer–the Paternoster (the Lord’s Prayer), say. He naturally is likely to recite what COGIC types tend to think of as the “full” prayer, ending with “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever, amen.” But the Catholic version of the prayer a line earlier. Has the Protestant the right to tell the Catholic that his version of the Lord’s Prayer is wrong?
Suppose the Jewish student wishes to recite the Kaddish? Suppose the Muslim teacher wants everyone to kneel facing Mecca to do the Salat, or objects to a lunchtime prayer, as that has the connotation of solar worship in his faith?
Another thing: what about the student who does not wish to pray at all? He may have been raised atheist or agnostic by his parents: what right has the school to gainsay them? If the school has the authority to force the atheist to embrace Christianity, why not the Jew, Muslim, Buddist,or B’hai? If that student is given the option to leave the classroom during prayers, is he not likely to be teased or bullied by persons in the majority faith, and do we want to encourage that? What about the person who includes an exhortation for the smiting of homosexuals or pagans in his prayer–do we allow him to force that prayer on others?
And what about Christ’s exhortation to shut oneself up in a closet when praying?
Nope. Can’t sign it.