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This blog is all about all the things that make me up. I am a Mother, I am a Pagan Witch, I am a Wife, I am a homemaker, I am a student, I am Spiritual, I am a Teacher, I am Liberal Hippie, I am a Voter, and I am extremely opinionated! Plan to see it all! If you don't like what you see, feel free to leave! However, chances are, if you stick around, you'll find more to love than hate!

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Religion in Schools - Part 1

Recently I had someone tell me that it's "people like me" that are destroying this country. By "people like me" she meant people who don't support the practice of School led Prayer or daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance in our Public Schools. So I felt this was a subject best explored in a more "open minded" forum. However, since this is really a group of issues I've decided to split it up over a few different post. Therefore you'll be seeing a few posts on the subject over the next few days. 

First I would like to attack the most common misconception about Prayer in Schools. And that's that it's somehow illegal, or that anyone actually apposes it on a personal level. Not that there aren't most likely people out there who do, but 99.9% of parents - religious or not - couldn't care less if you or your child prays to themselves before a test, before and after lunch or even all day every day while they are at school. The issue is NOT prayer itself. Instead the issue is SCHOOL LED prayer.

There is in fact NO law which stops personal or private, or even public student led, prayers at or on school grounds. There is ONLY laws which stop teachers and school officials from leading the students in prayer. That's it! If a student is so inclined to pray, they are free to do so. If a group of students is so inclined to pray, they are also free to do so. In fact, as I have recently encountered, if groups outside of the school staff and/or board, such as a PTO, should choose to lead student optional prayers which include students, they are legally permitted to do so - even on school grounds and during school hours.

What they are NOT permitted to do is have teachers, principals, school officials or anyone who is under contract or paid by the school in any fashion lead students in prayer in a school setting. Prayers are not allowed to be read over the loud speakers and students who do choose to participate in school prayers of any kind must be doing so of their own accord - schools may not require it in any fashion.  However, there is a loop-hole for teacher or other officials who are involved in school sponsored religious or spiritual organizations - such as Boy Scouts, 4H or other similar groups which are involved in religious or spiritual activities and also associated with the school. They are also permitted to be involved with groups outside of a school setting where they may or may not lead religiously based activities. Simply being a teacher does not limit them to a life without faith.

Personally, I would like to see a line drawn between school and any non-student led prayer. The idea that the PTA at my son's school insists on holding prayer circles which school is in session deeply upsets me. I feel as if it's a way to pressure students to conform to the group - a group which I don't feel every student is ready to or should be conforming to. I would also like to see public schools discontinue their ongoing association with religious groups. Our local public high-school has a priest which comes in and does "sessions" with students. A letter is sent to EVERY senior & junior student offering this time with a priest should they have any thing they need guidance on. Which I could understand if the school didn't also have a Guidance Counselor on staff at all times. In fact, they have 2 - and 3 principals... So explain to me why we need a priest as well?  Even groups such as Boy Scouts (which I will be addressing later) usually work with and through public schools, yet hold guidelines and practices which are rather anti-tolerant and highly religious in nature. This are things I would like to see change!

But, in NO WAY, would I support a total ban on prayer in schools. First, it's a completely ludicrous idea to think you could even attempt to do such a thing. Second, seeing how schools can't read minds, it would be completely impossible to enforce! And third, it's a violation of their rights.

I do, however feel that if you want to see religious teachings in your child's school or prayers read over the speaker in the morning you need to do one of two things - invent a time machine and go back to the 30's or put your kid in a Private School! The beauty of Public School is that it's open to the PUBLIC as a whole, not just one or two factions. You have students who are Christian, of course, but you also have Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, Atheist and so many other groups represented. To lead students in prayer associated with a single group would be a HUGE violation of the rights of every other student there. That would be like forcing every citizen in your town to attend Church - not just Church, but the same church, every day - tell me that would go over...

I like to approach the issue in this way. While a Christian parent may not understand the issue with leading the school in prayer because (and this was an argument I got when I tried to fight my PTA's Prayer circles) "Prayer is nothing but positive and the students need to be exposed to positivity regardless of their faith" I can assure you that those same parents would NOT welcome the idea of a Muslim or Pagan prayer being presented in the same manner. It's for THIS basic reason that we can NOT include School Led Prayer in any way, shape or form in our Public School Day Schedule.

If you as a parent would like your child to engage in daily prayers, there are lots of options for them. One is simply to pray silently to themselves. Another is for you to lead them in prayer prior to them leaving for school. And a third is to find or form a group of like minded students to pray as a group before classes, during free periods or lunch or before the day begins. No one is contesting this or even trying to stop it. In fact the vast majority of Americans, even those who did not support School Led prayer, support the students right to practice their faith as they see fit - including prayer.

**This blog post was originally published to my One Witch's Wonderland Blog (now closed) on 1/7/12**

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