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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






27 May 2006

Prayer in Public Schools


Q: I am doing a speech in my school about school prayer. I know that prayers in school are not to be government led, but I need some insight and support on why prayer sessions and such should be put back into school daily. Why do schools need prayer and religion? I need some expert advice and asking you seems to be a good idea. Thanks!

PrayerA: When I was in elementary school in the 1960s, public school prayer was still common. The U. S. Constitution’s so-called “Establishment Clause” still was understood to mean that the state should not interfere with the churches, not that churches should have no say in affairs of state. (Indeed, when first adopted, this portion of the First Amendment specifically applied only to the Federal Government — many of the original states had established, state-sanctioned churches.) The Supreme Court later reinterpreted this basic law, essentially saying that church and state should be almost completely divorced.

Yet you cannot keep “religion” out of schools unless you keep anyone who is in any way religious out of schools. Ultimately, this would mean that even atheists would be uneducated, since they have strong faith that there is no god in which to have strong faith — in other words, they make themselves and human reason to be their gods. As a Christian, I think it is good when Christian faith lives in our schools and when the morals and ethics of the Bible are lived to their fullest.

Yet many atheists, non-Christians, and quite a few Christians think that using state-funded schools to impose participation in a strange belief upon those of different faiths is wrong. Among these, many Lutherans in the United States disagree with many other Christians and oppose sanctioned, public school prayer for many of the same reasons as do atheists and believers in other gods.

We think that many of these “prayers” are not good and proper prayers. We also think that including unbelievers causes them to sin doubly; first they deny the true God, then they practice deceit by verbally acknowledging a Deity they deny in their hearts.

On the other hand, we’ll also fight to allow those who choose to have times of group prayer, even on school property, provided that this won’t interfere with the schools’ ability to function in their primary task of imparting earthly knowledge to the students. This means that we support before- and after-school prayer or Bible study groups and the like. In this way, Christian students and teachers may testify to their faith in God without making others mouth words they don’t believe or else sit through religious rites that aren’t part of their faith and values.

School PrayerThe public schools are not there to give Christians a captive audience for evangelism. We certainly wouldn’t like to live in a non-Christian land and be forced to participate or sit through school prayers to Allah, Vishnu, or other false gods. We would rightly cry out that the schools are there to educate about all things possible without favoring another faith above our own. We would say, “Do it on your own time, not on school time.”

Finally, an old joke (or proverb) reminds us, “As long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer in school.” There is no overwhelming need for public, school-sponsored prayer, since each Christian may pray at any time and under any circumstances. God encourages each of us to, in Jesus’ Name, call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Students may do this quietly at their desks, with fellow believers around the lunch table or in extracurricular organizations, on playground or athletic field, or anywhere else they choose.

State sponsored education involves a government that is of all the people — Christians and non-Christians alike. Yet the state allows, mandates, and pays for not only non-Biblical but anti-Biblical teaching (such as evolution or condom-based sex education) while not allowing the Church a dissenting voice. The best response is Christian parochial and higher education or Christian home schooling. This not only negates the wrong messages but allows the integration of Christian teaching and a Christian worldview into all subjects. From physics to physical education, the arts and sciences all involve divine order and speak to our Christian vocations.

SPLHSSuch an educational opportunity for my children helped me decide accept the call to my present congregation. One of my daughters has already graduated from Saint Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, Missouri and the other just completed her elementary education here at Holy Cross and will enter Saint Paul in the fall. In such an environment, they learn that God, not random chance brought all that is into being and that God is an active, although often hidden, participant in human history and all affairs of the cosmos.

Previous posts dealing with unionistic and syncretistic prayer practices include Should Christians Pray with Non-Christians and More on Syncretism.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Bob Waters said...

Good response. Syncretism is wrong even when the "conservative" agenda approves it.

12 June, 2006 20:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never really understood this issue because I was taught to pray in my own private sanctuary which is in my mind. Im still not sure if public school is a place for prayer. Then again no one can stop you from praying whenever you find it necessary at that time and place.

28 November, 2006 23:29  

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