Prayer in All the Wrong Places

 I’m on social media a lot; I got on it years ago primarily because I was repeatedly encouraged by other writers and editors at the writer’s conferences I attended to get involved.  And so I tweet, I’m on Facebook—back in the day I was on Myspace and even Friendster; so far as I know I still have a Myspace account, though it’s been years since I looked at it.  Friendster, so far as I know, is history.  I do Tumbler and Pinterest a little, but really, most of my time is on Facebook and Twitter.


I bring this up because one of the things I find particularly useful about Facebook (besides being able to keep up with people that I’d otherwise lose contact with) is that I get to see some of the stupid memes that get passed around, many of which an ability to use Google and Snopes would take care of. Given that I’m a Baptist and have a lot of friends who are Baptist and of other Christian franchises, I see some things from the faith community that both disturb and alarm me.  And really, really annoy me.


For instance, on Tuesday I saw someone clapping over the thought that “prayer has come back to all the schools in Mississippi.”  There are several things wrong with this.  First, it’s not quite true in the sense that the poster imagined.  More importantly, it illustrates the continuing failure of so many with a religious bent to purposely misunderstand the Supreme Court ruling on the issue of prayer in school. What was prohibited by the court so many years ago are state mandated prayers.  It used to be, before the ruling, that every morning in some schools the principal or some other designated individual, would announce over the intercom that it was time to pray and would then lead them in a prayer as if they were in a church or synagogue.  Or the teacher would be tasked with the job in the individual classroom.


This was so wrong on so many levels.  First, it obviously violated the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits the state from “establishing” a religion.  Plus, from a religious standpoint, what could be more awful than forcing someone to pray in a certain way?  Jewish people and Muslims would not be comfortable praying in “Jesus’ name.”  Nor would Jewish people or Christians want to invoke Allah.  Buddhists or Hindus would not be happy with any of it and vice versa: no Christian, Muslim or Jewish person would want to involve themselves in praying like a Hindu; let alone the awfulness of forcing atheists to invoke a God they don’t even believe in.  Beyond that, prayer is intensely personal; it is not supposed to be a dry, rote thing that we just go through the motions doing—which is all the old prayers in school over the intercom ever were.  Students paid as much attention to such prayers as they did to whatever announcements the principal had to give them: and it impacted their lives not at all, except perhaps to turn them off to the whole idea of prayer.



Several years ago my wife and I took in a high school senior after her parents were unable to care for her; she was enrolled in a private Christian school and one of her teachers did something with prayer that infuriated me: this young woman was asked to keep a prayer journal as a class project—which by itself might have been okay—but the teacher wanted to read it and grade it! He actually criticized her for her prayers, told her she needed to be confessing some of her sins and telling her that her prayers simply weren’t good enough!  Had we understood earlier what this ludicrous and evil assignment had entailed, we would have encouraged her to simply make stuff up for her journal and to keep her real prayers out of it entirely.  Unfortunately she didn’t tell my wife and I what had happened until near the end of the semester, when it was too late for us to do anything about it.


When I think of what prayer in public school used to mean, it bothers me in the same way.  Students can pray individually if they want.  If they want to ask God to bless their meals at lunch, if they want to pray before they take a test, if they want to gather in a group and pray on their own, that’s their right as American citizens.  But no one in the state has the right to make them, any more than it has a right to tell them they can’t.  All the Supreme Court said is that public schools can no longer impose prayers on the students.  For that I am very happy.  I never want to see those sorts of prayers in schools ever again.  Such rote prayers are a complete waste and as stupid as the idiots who think putting up copies of the Ten Commandments in and on public buildings is somehow useful.  Imposing religion is wrong. It’s like the story of the man who tried to teach a pig to sing. All he did is frustrate himself and annoy the pig.