Originally published August 29, 2014
“We need to put prayer back in school!” It’s a well worn mantra that many Christians have been shouting from pulpits, in PTA meetings, and now on social media since the early 1960’s when it was outlawed. No, we don’t need to put prayer back in public schools, and I think if Christians who think that the United States would revert to some idyllic 1950’s utopia by re-instituting classroom prayer would give it five minutes of serious thought, they would run as far as they could from the idea of prayer in public schools.
Now, just so there are no misunderstandings, when I say “prayer in public schools,” I’m not talking about things like a child saying the blessing over his own lunch, or a group of kids who want to pray together during free time, or an after school club that wants to include prayer. Those are all voluntary, private things that should, by all means, be allowed. When I say “prayer in public schools,” I’m talking about a teacher or a student or someone over the loudspeaker leading the entire class in prayer during class time. And we definitely do not want that. Why?
1. What’s good for the Christian goose is good for the Muslim/Mormon/Atheist gander.
There is no way in the current cultural climate –none whatsoever- that any court in this land will re-institute Christian prayer, and only Christian prayer, in the classroom. And even if some well meaning judge did manage to do so, his decision would be overturned faster than you could say “amen.” You want prayer in the public school classroom? You might get Christian prayer, but you’re also going to get Muslim prayer, Mormon prayer, atheist prayer, Hindu prayer, Satanist prayer, and any other sect that comes along and wants to do prayer in the classroom. Do you really want your six year old faced with the choice of participating in a Satanic prayer or trying to get permission to abstain? Neither do I.
2. Why is it so important that we have prayer in schools?
Assuming you don’t work at a church or ministry, does your workplace gather all the employees at the beginning of the day and start with prayer? No? Has that been deeply detrimental to you personally or to your workplace? No? Then why is it so important that schools have prayer?
3. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
This nifty little Latin phrase means “after this, therefore, because of this.” It refers to the faulty reasoning people sometimes use by assuming that because two events occurred near the same time or seem to be related, one of them must have caused the other.
Time and time again, I have heard Christians bemoan the moral state of this country and wail, “It all started when they took prayer out of schools!”
Post hoc ergo poppycock.¹
If the moral state of this country was so perfect before 1962, then how in the world did prayer ever get taken out of schools in the first place? No, things started going downhill in this country long before prayer was removed from schools. It was as a result of that moral decay that prayer was taken out of schools.
Saying that the removal of prayer from public schools created the mess our country is in today would be like someone sixty years from now saying, “When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, that’s when things started going bad for America.”
Because things are just so morally peachy right now.
4. It isn’t biblical.
It is not the job of a secular governmental institution or employee to monitor or lead our children in prayer, and no one could make the case from God’s word that it is. Scripture tells us that leading in prayer is the job of Christian parents and the church.
Neither would it be biblical for the sake of unsaved children in your child’s class that you’re hoping will somehow get saved by someone leading a prayer every morning. That’s not how people get saved. If you’re concerned about lost children, teach your child how to share the gospel. Befriend the children’s parents and share the gospel with the parents yourself. It’s free, it can be done immediately, without waiting for court decisions (that won’t be coming anyway) and it’s biblical.
5. It’s hypocritical.
It is often Christians who exclaim the loudest, and rightly so, that the government should back off and stop trying to control, regulate, and meddle in every square inch of our lives. Yet with regard to prayer in schools, Christians talk out of the other side of their mouths and practically beg the government to insinuate itself into an issue it has no business touching. (Not to mention that the government does such a bang up job of handling things like this.)
Will those very Christians complain if the government re-institutes prayer and then tries to regulate it just like they do everything else? And what about depending on the government for a handout of prayer when we are the ones who should be doing the work of teaching prayer and sharing the gospel? Isn’t that a sort of prayer “welfare” system? Putting prayer back in public schools would be a nightmare of false religions and government regulations.
We don’t need prayer in schools. We need prayer in homes and in churches. We need people sharing the gospel with their friends, fellow students, neighbors, and co-workers. We need Christians to be the salt and light Jesus called us to be in the world we actually live in rather than pining away for an imaginary ideal that will never come to fruition.
¹I only wish I were clever enough to have come up with this. Kudos to CHRIS ROSEBROUGH’S wife who coined the Phrase.