It’s 2015, So Please Stop Holding Mandatory Prayers In Public School Classrooms

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bible on american flagPraying is not my cup of tea. But if praying is something you enjoy, and you want to get your prayer on, more power to you! Just as long as you don’t happen to be forcing a classroom full of hapless elementary school students to join you when you do.

Raw Story reports that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the Emanuel County school system in Georgia. The lawsuit was undertaken on behalf of a family whose two elementary school age children were routinely embarrassed, harassed, and mocked by their fellow classmates and their teachers for the terrible crime of … not wanting to join in daily prayers. What would Jesus do? I’m going to go with not bullying a small child into leaving public school in favor of homeschooling. But I’m a non-believer, so what do I know?

When their atheist parents complained to the school, the principal’s solution was to have the teacher send the kids out in the hallway while the prayers went on as usual. I’m pretty sure the best solution to Establishment Clause violations is not “send the concerned into another room while the violation happens”, guys. And what do you know, this head-in-the-sand work-around didn’t exactly make Jesse and Jamie feel more comfortable in their respective classrooms. Instead, the list of poor treatment they got began to rack up.

Not only were the teachers dismissive of Jesse and Jamie’s discomfort, but they letother students think that Jesse and Jamie’s leaving class during the prayers was a punishment rather than the crappy concession to their family’s non-belief that it was. Of course the other students then starting teasing the Doe children when they left the classroom, because ‘different’ is blood in the water of the public school shark tank. Jamie ended up leaving the elementary school entirely because of how bad things got. Meanwhile, Jesse’s teacher kept Jesse in from recess for the purpose of proselytizing (especially awesome considering how little recess kids already get in school)–and to explain that Jesse’s mother was a bad person for not believing in God.

It’s easy to dismiss this as “oh, that’s just how the South is”, but here’s the thing: this is a country, not just a loose confederacy (cough) of states, and the rights people in New York City have to practice religion, or to sleep in on Sundays, should be the same as what people in Georgia are afforded. Besides, it’s not as if the Northern states are a perfect bastion of progressive virtue either: ask me sometime about my uncomfortable experiences as an untenured teacher sitting through mandatory all-school assemblies that were opened and closed with prayer. We’re all in this together, and I hope the Doe kids find themselves in a school situation where their beliefs, or lack thereof, are handled with the same respect that anyone else’s are.

And for those who insist that teachers have the right to loudly cram their preferred prayers down the unsuspecting maw of elementary schoolers? I think a close reading of Matthew 6:5 is in order.

(Image: hayesphotography / Getty)