Since the Engel decision in 1962, religious advocates have been assailing the Supreme Court for "taking God out of the classroom." In an effort to reverse this trend, conservative religious groups have been fighting for the passage of a school prayer amendment to gain greater leeway for religious activities in schools. Clearly not all school prayer advocates agree as to what types of religious activities are permissible in public schools and why, but the following are some of the most frequently heard arguments.
(1) Our Government is based on Religious Principle
School prayer proponents maintain the United States was established as a Christian nation with religion playing a central role in guiding the nation’s destiny. Supporters of religion in school claim the founding fathers never intended a separation of church and state, evidenced by the fact that the phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution. Signs of a church/state union can be seen regularly: Congress prays at the opening of every session; federal officials take their oaths upon a Bible; "In God we trust" is stamped on our national currency; and Moses and the Ten Commandments are featured prominently in the Supreme Court building. If religion is accepted in these government institutions, they reason, it should not be stopped at the schoolhouse door.
(2) The Free Exercise Clause Protects School Prayer
Despite decades of Supreme Court rulings, many religious advocates claim the Constitution protects school prayer. According to their interpretation, the First Amendment does not separate God and government, but actually encourages religion. Many supporters believe the Establishment Clause was intended to bar only the establishment of a state religion. They narrowly interpret the Free Exercise Clause as requiring the government to accommodate religious observances in public life. Many advocates believe the restriction on graduation and student-led school prayers violates their First Amendment right to practice religion without government interference.
(3) Banning School Prayer Leads to Moral Decline
Since the banning of organized prayer in public schools, the nation has been in steady moral decline. Divorce rates, teen pregnancy, violent crime, and drug use have all increased. Many school prayer supporters believe there is a direct correlation between the removal of prayer from public schools and the decline of morality. Religious conservatives are convinced that religious influence in the schools is necessary to teach students morals and values.
(4) Majority Should Rule
Public opinion has remained strongly opposed to the court rulings that barred classroom prayer and Bible readings in the 1960s. National polls repeatedly indicate that the majority of Americans favor organized prayer in public schools. School prayer advocates argue that to forbid the majority the right to pray because the minority objects is undemocratic. Supporters are generally committed to majority rule at a local level, and are favorable to laws that would allow local majorities to make decisions about religion in public forums.
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