School Prayer: Needs of the One outweigh Needs of the Many?

This thread is inspired by this thread, the basic story of which is that an athiest family was having a hard time in a middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma town when the daughter ran into fairly open and community/institutionally supported prayer in an accademic setting.

In said thread, Liberal said:

I think this is a great question, actually! What is the “right” thing to do in a situation like this? Is the prohibition of public prayer at school functions supported by our constitution (and inherent in the American social contract and “way of life”)? I’d say that it is, in as much as we claim to be open and tolerant and accepting.

Is an atheist (or any other non-Christian) a jerk for demanding a small community change its ways to be more in line with said statement above? What if the atheist moved to the town (is an outsider)? What if he or she was born there and developed different views? What if it’s not a small town, but a larger community? Do these things matter?


I teach high school drama in a district school of about 1,300 students. During our recent production, one or a few of the students held brief pre-show prayers in the band room for whomever wanted to join (part of it involved the Lord’s Prayer, so I assume it was Catholic-based). Maybe 1/2 of the cast took part.

I felt a little strange about it, but because it wasn’t most of the kids, I wasn’t too worried about anyone feeling ‘ostracized’ or uniquely uncomfortable. So, they did their thing, everyone else did their thing, and all was good. It seemed to me that the ‘right’ thing to do was to live and let live, though I think it would have been very inappropriate if I had participated myself. Also I think it would have been inappropriate if I or the other teachers had set aside specific time for prayer, or rounded up kids for “prayer time.”

If, though, there were only a small handful of kids who didn’t participate, and they felt uncomfortable, I’m not sure what I would do.

The easy and obvious solution is to let the kids pray, but not have it be official or have the coach or other school officials organize or lead anything.

Also the school officials should try not be such lying scumbags.

Other than that, if all the cool kids are praying and she isn’t, well, that’s tough luck for her. Is it dick? Sure. But kids are often dicks.

Damn. I actually agree with Apos.

I believe one “purpose” of the Constitution is to protect minorities with unpopular positions from the “tyranny of the majority.” So yes, IMO one atheist is more than enough to stop state-sponsored prayer - which shouldn’t happen in the first place.

Re: your anecdote, the student-run activity was “okay” so long as all other student-sponsored activities were permitted. But I will observe that it would suck being an “outsider” regarding such a group activity.

But Christians are outsiders on this board. Granted, it’s not state sponsored, but isn’t the dynamic the same?

That might happen more often if you read what I write before responding, if that isn’t too much trouble. :slight_smile:

A minor but important correction - the prayers in question were not being imposed by the government nor any of its agents.

Everyone should refrain from coercing anyone else into abandoning any of their Constitutionally protected rights.

No, it is not - religious speech such as prayer is given special protection, exactly to prevent the government from interfering. The duty of the government is to be especially open, tolerant, and accepting of religious speech.

Yes. What the other members of the community do is none of her business, if she chooses not to participate.

Not under the Constitution. All adult citizens have equal rights before the law. No one, acting on behalf of the government, can force or prevent anyone else from praying in a non-disruptive manner.


Cite? I believe past polls of posters here indicated that the majority of them considered themselves to be Christians.

But do we let kids be whatever kind of dicks they want to be, or do we regulate and police that to some degree?

I mean, I tend to agree that a live-and-let-live policy is ideal, but it is very easy for kids (not to mention adults) to use passive- and no-so-passive-agressive behavios to get their way; in a majority situation there’s often no cracking it (look at how the actions of the grown-ups in the town in the referenced thread belie the “Good Christian” myth they all seem to be operating under, regardless of how much of a jerk the father may or may not be).

In other words, I’m not sure why prayer or group religious practice should get a pass when a school might step in in any number of other situations where a few kids are being constantly left out.

The problem is that when the adults are less concerned with providing a good experience for everyone than they are with maintaining specific, exclusionary behaviors, then the minority students literally have no support and nowhere to turn.

Well, sort of. But, speaking of jerks, it’s IMHO jerkish to allow for time for prayer at a school event, have school employees praying during such time, and then claim that the school is not “forcing” anyone to pray, so it’s ok.

I actually kind of wish I had left the ‘constitutional’ part of out the OP, because I’m much less interested in that than I am in discussing how we deal with these situations as diverse citizens who need to get along and live in community with each other.

Well, if they are doing something to actively attack the student in some way, then of course: but that’s a general policy. You can’t aim a policy explicitly at the fact that students want to do something that some girl doesn’t want to do on their free time.

As long as what they are being “left out” of is a spontaneous activity undertaken by private citizens on their own time, what’s the issue exactly?

Well his statement is factually wrong, but his feelings might be partially correct.
If he modified his statement to there are more loud Atheist than loud Christians on this board, would you accept this?

Liberal, is that statement a fair compromise?

I am not in favor of school sponsored or promoted pray, but if a group of kids go off and pray, let them. If a coach, teacher or school official is participating with the group, now it would appear to be getting touchy. The situation described in the other thread, did sound like the school was oppressing a minority. The situation in this op sounds Kosher to me. :wink:


Does “their own time” include extracurricular sports? Time between classes in the hallway?

Also, while students are “private citizens,” they, as minors of varying ages, sometimes require a bit more meddling in their free will than would be acceptable for adults. If my coworkers all decided to hold a prayer circle at lunch every day, that’d be their own business, but in school settings the acceptableness of that kind of thing gets blury, I think.

(also, just to clarify, none of my questions are meant to be snarky in any way. I’m pretty genuinely baffled by this issue. I pretty much agree with Apos’ initial post in this thread, but I feel that that attitude also leaves no recourse for the student in the minority other than to ‘suck it up,’ which is unacceptable to me).

The Lord’s Prayer is a generic Christian prayer, not Catholic. The Catholic and protestant versions do differ slightly on the ending.

Preliminary nitpick: The Lord’s Prayer is in the Bible (in two versions); it’s pretty close to a consensus-of-all-Christians prayer, not exclusively Catholic. (Curious where you got that from, Eonwe.)

Doing something by consensus for “team spirit” presupposes an attitude on the part of all team members to cooperate in finding something that they can arrive at consensus on. In this case, there being an atheist, a prayer would not be a consensus decision. And anything shy of consensus imposed by some on all is tyranny of the majority.

“School prayer” is not outlawed in America. Students, faculty, janitorial staff, and anyone else are free to pray, privately or in a voluntary homogenous or student-led group. (The modifiers in the last phrase are there to prevent the role-model influence of an adult place undue pressure on a student in a circumstance where individual and/or family, not government employee, should be the deciding factor. What is outlawed is the prescription or coercion of any prayer as an integral part of any formal school-required or sponsored activity (with the exception that a voluntary extracurricular club organized for the purpose can pray to its heart’s content).

The rights of the individual should remain sacrosanct, immune from compulsion, coercion, or fraud. This includes a student’s right to pray, and a student’s right not to pray, at his/her free choice or as guided by parental teachings where relevant. (Seems like I’ve heard the bolded sentence around this board before, though I can’t quite remember who said it. ;))

I wonder how proponents of school prayer would react to a Muslim teacher leading the class in voluntary kneeling toward Mecca? The whole issue is about as silly as the supposed attacks on Christmas- Kids are in school about 40 hours a week. They are elsewhere 128 hours a week. Pray then. They can go to whatever church they want. Pray there. They can pray silently without a soul knowing. Pray that way. If you want your kids to pray, do so with them at home. If you want my kids to pray, mind your own business.

Could you have made it harder for me to figure out what the original situation was? A link to an SDMB thread whose cite was a google search. AARRGGGH.

I don’t think they were circle praying while playing sports, or else they’d be a pretty lousy team. But yeah: if they aren’t actually doing the activity at the time, it’s their time. If they’d otherwise just be talking to each other about stuff, why can’t they use that time to pray instead?

I find myself agreeing with Apos as well.

No organization of prayer by school officials, especially if they are doing it during school hours. If I’m paying them (through taxes), they shouldn’t be doing it on my dime.

And as long as there isn’t a problem regarding denomination. Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Scientologist, Wiccan, Pagan, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Devil worshippers (and I know that is separate from all of the previously listed groups), as long as everyone has the same rights to do their thing, or do nothing, I’m okay with it. Any restrictions on any of these groups should apply to all of these groups.

I think the thing to do in this case is to monitor the treatment of these kids by the others. If the majority treats the minority with respect, the minority is just going to have to get used to being out of the mainstream - a good life skill, actually. If the kids are being harassed then the administration needs to come down hard, or else they are part of the problem.