QUESTION: What is the position of those who are against prayer in public school?
Frequently heard arguments against prayer in public school are:
Prayer in public school is unconstitutional. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment provides that government shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. Because public schools are government funded, prayer led by school officials or incorporated into the school routine amounts to government-established religion.
Prayer in public school violates the “separation of church and state.” Although this phrase is not found in the U.S. Constitution, it is an accepted principle of American law providing that the government cannot interfere in the practices of the church nor advance or advocate religious observances in government settings.
Public schools are intended for education, not religious observance or proselytization.
Prayer in public school is already legal. Students are already allowed to pray on a voluntary basis (in a non-disruptive way) so formal school prayer is unnecessary.
Prayer in public school may lead to intolerance. Public prayer will highlight religious differences of which students may have been unaware. Those students who abstain from school prayer or protest against it may be ostracized.
Prayer in public school is inherently coercive and cannot be implemented in a way that is truly voluntary. What young child could regard prayer as voluntary where it is lead by his teacher, incorporated into the school routine, and engaged in by the majority of his peers?
The public school system is created for all students and supported by all taxpayers. It should therefore remain neutral on religious issues over which students and taxpayers will differ.
Since no formal school prayer could simultaneously honor and uphold the tenets of the many religions practiced in the U.S., as well as various denominational differences, prayer is better left in the home and religious institution of the individual student’s choice. A related argument is that school prayer usurps the role of parents and religious institutions who desire to provide religious instruction in keeping with their own beliefs.