Letter: Keep the focus in schools on education

From: Scott Keen


The Feb. 22 article in The Republic titled “A Full Docket” reviewed a proposed Indiana bill that “makes sure school corporations don’t discriminate against students for their religious expression and allows students to pray during school hours.” This bad idea strikes me as a divisive solution in search of a problem and a thinly veiled response to the nonexistent war on religion (i.e., Christianity) in the U.S.

First, I don’t accept that Christians are subjects of discrimination in America. Look around you. There is a Christian church on every other corner. Google lists about 96 Christian churches in Bartholomew County. Non-Christian elected officials are rare. Essentially, all public event prayers are Christian. Even this article was illustrated with a cross. Christians don’t seem too besieged to me.

Regarding prayer, Jesus said that when you pray, you shouldn’t do it in public, but in your closet. He seemed to think praying is not a spectator sport. I believe many students and teachers already pray in school, privately, as Jesus suggests.

The fact is, students can pray in school any time as long as they don’t create a major disruption. Student-led prayer, even in groups, is already protected by law, as is “expressing their religious beliefs in homework, artwork, clothing and aloud.” Pray away! The American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t care about that. It is when a public school begins promoting or supporting a religion that problems arise.

This bill proposes that schools provide a “limited public forum for students to talk about their religion” (i.e., pray). Everyone else in that space can leave and be excused from the prayer if they don’t want to participate. So if a student is quietly studying and someone else enters that space and starts a public prayer (or preaching or singing?), the student is obliged to leave the room? At a public school? Because of differences in faith?

And finally, the bill says school principals can step in and stop things if an “off-the-wall” religion tries to exercise its right to public prayer. What defines “off-the-wall”? Is a Muslim off-the-wall? A Mormon? Christian Scientist? Scientologist? Pastafarian (disciple of the Flying Spaghetti Monster)? What is the list of officially “not off-the-wall” religions at North High School? Is the list the same at East? Who decides that? The principals? Who vets them? I bet they don’t want to do this.

Seriously, these are public schools, not churches. Do students really need to hold disruptive, divisive, school-sanctioned public prayer meetings on school time? Students can already openly express their religious beliefs. Isn’t that enough? Our public schools should use their limited time and resources to educate students about living in the real world. You know, things like math, literacy and teamwork. Parents can spiritualize their children with their beliefs on their private time. That is a highly traditional, family-oriented function. Public schools have no place there.

And who knows what the next public school selected “off-the-wall” religion could be? Maybe yours.