The U.S. Supreme Court this week reaffirmed lower court rulings on school prayer that go back nearly 40 years. It was a 1962 Supreme Court decision that outlawed organized, officially sponsored school prayer in a landmark case.
Years ago, when our nation was more homogeneous, school-led prayers were common in public schools. Most students were Christian and so were the prayers. Most parents thought nothing of it.
Those days are gone.
The United States is much more diverse today. Many of our students are believers in Buddhism, Islam or Judaism. For school-age children, particularly at the adolescent age, few things are as important as fitting in. One of the worst mistakes a school system can commit is to unconsciously use religion to make some students feel like outsiders.
Since that 1962 Supreme Court ruling various challenges have cropped up over the years and the court has consistently ruled that school sponsorship of a religious message is unlawful.
The court's minority opinion, a strongly worded document authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, complained that the 6-3 ruling "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life."
That seems to be quite an overstatement. This week's court ruling does nothing to prohibit students from praying on their own, before a meal, for example. It also does nothing to prohibit student religious groups to worship on school grounds, if the same opportunity is afforded other student clubs.
The decision against a Texas high school's practice of allowing students to lead pre-football game prayers was issued for specific reasons. It was because the pre-game program was school-sponsored. It took place on school grounds and used the school's loudspeakers.
The Supreme Court has not removed God from the classroom. No branch of any government has that power. What the court did was reaffirm the notion that schools should refrain from sponsoring religious messages and leave that important task to parents or guardians.
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