One early morning this week I took a brief respite from my newest avocation, fighting about Donald Trump on Twitter and Facebook, and accidentally fell into an argument about another even more passion-and-conflict-producing topic: religion.
This is the meme that generated my comment that began the argument:
The immediate comments below the initial post indicated strong support for the return of compulsory teacher or administration-led group prayer in public schools, something that was ruled unconstitutional over 50 years ago.
This is what I said:
Public organized prayer at public schools? No thank you. My kids go to a school with a large cross section of religions. Not interested AT ALL.
Although I may not have made the points as well as I would've liked, especially considering it now in the rearview, my thinking was based on these three ideas:
- I don't want my kids to be subject to religious activities or beliefs to which I object.
- I don't want other kids to be subject to religious activities or beliefs to which they or their parents object.
- I don't want any kids to be pressured by authority figures in to any sort of religious activity.
The response to my remarks were explosive. I was accused of hating religion, hating Christianity, hating morality, embracing lawlessness, and encouraging the devolution of society.
The overwhelming presumption in the comments was that it should be Christian prayers that should be encouraged in schools. Defense of this position included that it's the one true religion, that America was founded as a distinctly Christian nation, that it's the way it was done before the courts' decisions, or other arguments along these lines.
Setting aside any discussion about the actual validity of any of those assertions, the fact is that some Americans would totally disagree. Not all Americans are Christian. According to a recent Pew Research poll, roughly 30% of Americans don't call the Christian faith their own.
Pointing out this diversity within the population was my first step in defending my position. I put it two different ways:
- How would you like your child to be forced to participate in prayers to Allah or Ganesh?
- Is it right for Muslims or Hindus to be forced to pray to Jesus?
In other words, does putting ones self in another's shoes make any sort of difference to the appeal of the idea?
The responses were clear, swift, and easily summarized like this: No, it doesn't. The explanation was a democratic one: We're the majority and so we should be able to make the rules.
I didn't pursue this line any further, anticipating that the concept of “tyranny of the majority” might be too much to handle for some of those involved in the discussion. Let's just say their attendance in their school's theory of logic class was intermittent, at best.
I tried to disentangle myself from the avalanche of comments by pointing out that voluntary individual prayer always has, still is, and will certainly always be legal. As the famous saying goes, as long as algebra is taught in school, there will always be prayer.
This comment was met with the same level of intensity and disagreement as my first ones were. The responses were that corporate prayer was more likely to gain God's attention and action, that the group-nature of the activity would yield superior results within the culture of the school, and that the symbolic unity of it was most important.
Whether or not this is true is quite besides the point. The basic point is this: teacher or administration-led compulsory prayer at a public school is an awful idea. If a parent wants religious activity to be part of their kid's school day, myriad private school options are available. I'll be responsible for my family's faith beliefs and won't insist they be imposed on anyone else's, thank you very much. To paraphrase Pink Floyd - Hey parents and teachers, leave those kids alone.
The secondary point is probably one that just about everyone can agree upon: sometimes just scrolling past a particularly irritating social media post is the far wiser course.