Religion in Public Schools
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof......Ó according to the First Amendment of
the Constitution. This idea of freedom of religion has been stated very
clearly, but it also raises questions about the meaning of religious freedom .
Should religious expression be excluded from all government activities? Has
separation of church and state been violated by the U.S. Treasury? For example,
on the back of every U.S. coin are the words, ÒIn God We TrustÓ. And what
about when they swear-in government offficials with a Bible? Why not use the
Torah or the Koran?
Is it separation of church and state when Congress opens each session
with a Christian prayer? The following prayer was recited at the start of the
November 30, 1994 session:
We pray, O God, for the bread for the sustenance of
our bodies and spiritual food for the nourishment of
our souls. In a world where much seems to be
discouraging and where problems appear at every corner,
we pray that the human spirit will not be taught
by cynicism or despair, but rejoice in the
possibilities of every new day and accept all
Your blessings with thanksgiving. Amen.
For some people in the Congress this raises serious questions about when
prayer is or is not appropriate. One of the Representatives from Oklahoma made
this comment in the Congressional Digest on November 30, 1994: Ò It was fine
for Rev. James David Ford to offer this prayer, yet it is a prayer our children
our not allowed to say in schoolÓ.
Since no amendment has been made allowing or prohibiting prayer, many
schools have gone ahead and recited verses from the bible and allowed prayer in
class. Another area of controversy has been the presence of religious symbols
on the school grounds. Schools such as the one in Livingston have gone to
court over the wearing or carrying of objects such as the SikhÕs kirpans. All
these examples point to the fact that there are severe disagreements on the
subject of religion in the schools.
Religion in public schools has been around many years. In fact,
it started in the colonial period of United States history when the schools were
thought to be an arm of the church; therefore, their curriculum contained
religion. Of course, their schools didnÕt have many or probably any Muslims or
Jews, but how does that differ from a small country town in Oklahoma where the
population is completely of the Christian faith? Does this mean that the
school cannot practice the religion in which the complete population is
Christian? ArenÕt these students being denied their religious rights? These