"Prayer Back in Schools" Is NOT the Answer

Whenever there is a major crisis or hot-button social issue (shootings, teen pregnancy, bullying, decline of education, etc), we commonly hear a call from "conservative" folks that goes something like this:

"_________ is happening because they took prayer [or God] out of schools."

For example, evangelical politician Mike Huckabee linked the Sandy Hook shooting to the removal of God from the schools.

I call "Baloney!" on a number of levels.

First, who is this they that did this horrendous and authoritative thing? In the democratic republic that we live in, should that not be a we?

Second, how would you (or, they) remove a spiritual thing like prayer (or a Supreme Being) out of a physical location? That would be an interesting metaphysical debate.

Third, was prayer (as God intended) ever really in schools in the first place? Is forcing children to recite The Lord's Prayer or God is great, God is good truly honoring to God?

Fourth, if a culture of prayer was really there, could it have been gone long before any court case?

Fifth, I'd love for someone to explain how social ills are directly caused by the failure to have children pray in schools.

Sixth, anyone who has studied the history of Christianity should recognize that Christianity has always been "strongest as a counter-cultural movement, rather than as a form of civil religion" (as Micah Fries writes in The Shadow of Secularization and the New Dawn of the Church). Maybe evangelicals should be working to get prayer out of the schools!

How We Got Here

Up until the 1970s (at the latest), our country had a high level of support for prayer in the schools, compared to the next few decades. However, as the Baby Boomers (typically skeptical of organized religion) grew in status and influence, this support decreased.

This leads to my perspective . . .

The lack of prayer in schools isn't the problem. It's a symptom. The problem is the lack of spiritual growth in us as individuals, and in churches as a whole.

I don't think we have problems in schools because "prayer was taken out of schools," as many wish to claim. I don't think we have problems in our culture because we are no longer a Christian America.

I think we have problems in schools because parents and other adults failed to have a living and dynamic faith in Jesus Christ.

A Southern Baptist Perspective?

A few months ago, a college classmate (who is now Senior Pastor at East Pickens Baptist Church) made a great statement on Facebook:

"Okay, so they can't pray at school board meetings anymore . . . or formally at school . . . but they can't stop you from praying at home with your family and spiritually leading them.

We live under a higher authority. You cannot rely on institutions to spiritually raise your children: not schools, not the church, not the media. . . . 

Go home and lead your children. Pray with them. Read Scripture with them. Show them they don't need the government to tell them how to live.

The answer to the spiritual problems of this community are not found in the public square. The answer is found in the private living rooms of this community."

So, the solution for self-proclaiming evangelicals is not to whine, or to push for legislation about whether you can pray at school events. The solution is for evangelicals to do what their name implies -- to build relationships with the goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in a personal and meaningful way.

Evangelism and discipleship starts (but doesn't end) at home. Teach your kids, and live out what you believe about Jesus by how you love others. That is how you Pass on Your Faith.

What do you think? Am I a complete liberal by not fighting for more "prayer in schools"?

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**image courtesy of lusi via rgbstock.com


  1. I believe what Mike Huckabee and others are saying about pray is that we have allowed secular humanists to move Christianity out of the public arena.
    As a teacher I saw this. And everybody just went along with it and really didn't question it. It is at its core a family problem but as a teacher I should be allowed to express my faith, and I wasn't unless I wanted to lose my job.
    I believe that is what people are protesting. This attitude that if we all just keep our beliefs under our hats and pray inside our houses then it will be alright.
    It's not alright. We are indoctrinating young children to believe that the Christian faith has no place outside the privacy of our own home. Your post even implies that.
    Yet every other faith, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam etc.. is embraced and accepted in school. The secular world has caught on that we need to train up a child in the way he should go. Christians naively believe that we can counter that when our kids are spending the majority of the childhood in a place that brainwashes them into believing that Christianity is wrong or-by its absence- irrelevant.

    1. I hate that you had that experience as a teacher.

      I've had a much more limited role in education, but where I am, I haven't encountered that issue. (Maybe that's just living in the Bible belt . . .)

      And I certainly do not intend to say that Christian faith has no place outside of the home (though I see how my post can imply that). The main problem I see (from a Christ-centered perspective) is that "Christians" give lip-service to God, but they are not living out their faith. This complacency does more harm (in my opinion) to the cause of Christ than not praying.

      I've seen churches get GREAT footholds in schools, but that only comes when the church is willing to sacrifice and pour in resources (time, energy, $, etc). When someone pours themselves out, they get loads of credibility when the question comes up, "So why ARE you doing this?"

      I've seen that happen with our situation. And when I say something like, "I'm here because Jesus would be involved, and He wants me to be involved" -- that opens up lots of conversation, or at least gives them something to think about.

  2. I really liked your blog post. I think you raise a lot of good points. Also, the previous commenter Sharon offered some good points too. (The unabashed double standard against Biblical faith IS very frustrating, obnoxious and hurtful.) I agree with many of the points you contend regarding your initial premise about how the removal of prayer is more symptomatic than anything else; that it's not the key or even one of the major root issues at all. What I wish is that there was more REAL openmindedness in mainstream society that would support discussion. Certainly not everyone will accept G-d or be willing to hear the gospel; however, I think it would be greatly edifying for both believers and non/pre- believers alike to be challenged to understand the tenets of this faith and the character of this G-d. Unfortunately I realize that intellectual integrity is not really important to a large portion of society- emotional and intellectual complacency reigns instead- and so often people don't like to think and are not trained to argue ideas. I think part of the reason we have this "fear-of-offending-most,-but-disregard-for-offending-G-d" mess is because a majority of people grow up internalizing their beliefs so that if the merit of their values/ creed is attacked or even just questioned they get defensive because they have become so identified with their own beliefs that any criticism towards it is equal to a criticism of their personal value and identity. I think no matter what someone believes this inclination is bad. I think it's easier to abandon this pattern as a believer because we know (or should know) that G-d's word is truth, therefore what is not in agreement with Him is a lie, and the way to overcome lies is using the truth. However, to do this I think there must be a willingness to give up what we think we know to really discover the truth. We have to seek out the truth while He may be found. Active, fruitful, living faith such as you describe through tangible, practical intervention and participation is probably one of the better ways to encourage this openness and humility in addition to private prayer that we can have at home regardless of what the spiritual climate at school (or work) is like. Thanks for the blog entry! :)

    1. I know. Like you, I am all for open dialogue. And like you, I wish we could have more of that!

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving this comment.

  3. I think Mrs. Tofu makes some great points. And I agree that no praying in school is symptomatic. My main point is that secular humanism is holding public school hostage and not only is the lack of prayer taking its toll on state run schools but the effort to keep Christianity out of the forum has caused textbooks to be revised and to actually distort facts in order to maintain the delusion that there is no God.

    I grew up a Christian and also grew up attending public school. But it was as an adult when I read history on my own that I realized how integral and powerful a role religion plays in shaping world history. That's left out of school textbooks. The same is true for science, which is why there is such a fight against studying Creationism side by side with Evolution. This is impacting our society. Our children are not being educated but being misinformed. Dare I say indoctrinated?

    More than that there is a spiritual dissolution that has been growing in the public school arena and I think we can trace it back to when prayer was removed. (Maybe before, as you said Christians fell asleep on the job) Because we cannot acknowledge God, then we cannot maintain that there is such a thing as absolute morals. What I saw in my school (and I taught in a small east Texas town) was that we weren't allowed to discipline children because we weren't allowed to create absolute conclusions about their behavior.
    That's when I had to quit. The chaos made it too difficult to teach.

    For the record, I did share my Christian faith and prayed with students. I never got reported for it but I wouldn't have cared if I did. As Peter and the apostles said in Acts 5:29 I have to obey God rather than man.

    There is power in prayer. The Holy Spirit is present when people pray. Where there is no prayer, a place and people are void of the Spirit's presence. I was reminded of this when a missionary from East Germany shared with my church how prevalent demonic forces were in that country because so few people prayed. There was practically no spiritual protection.

    Therefore, while I agree with the points of both Mrs. Tofu and Mr. Espinosa (especially about families not providing a dynamic Christian faith in the home), I still contend that taking prayer out of school has contributed to the moral and ethical disintegration of out schools.

  4. I agree. I think the state-run education misses (or misleads, if you want) a big part of history when it takes out the positive things done in the name of Christ. Then again, I think about the article I link to, that makes the case that in all of history, Christianity is strongest as a counter-cultural mission. If that is true, then perhaps we should be excited about how things are going! (Maybe)

    I think your example of how you shared your faith, and didn't get in trouble, is great. I'm not sure what part of the country you live in, but perhaps we make too much about "Christian persecution" in the USA.

    And then again, perhaps the problem is that Christians (as a whole) haven't been as bold as you, being willing to share our faith no matter what.