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What's With School Prayer [Kids Today / USA Today]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Kids Today / USA Today
Cover story
Feb. 19, 1995

You may have been hearing a lot about a new constitutional amendment that would allow schools to start the day with a prayer.

It’s a controversial issue. Some adults think that if students pray in school it will reinforce their morals and make them less likely to drop out, do drugs or get pregnant. In the least, they say, school prayer won’t make these problems any worse.

Others think it’s a bad idea. These opponents include leaders from about 20 religions. They say there is plenty of religion in our lives already. They point to statistics that show about 155 million Americans—63% of the population—practice more than 100 religions in the United States. So which prayer would a school choose?

And though this amendment wouldn’t force kids to pray, critics say if a teacher told the class it was prayer time, kids might feel pressured to join in.

Opponents don’t want government interfering with their religious life at all. The reason: today the government could be supporting the concept of organized religion. In the future, it might be against it.

Right now, it isn’t illegal to pray in school. The only regulation currently on the books is that public school officials just can’t sponsor or encourage it. The writers of the Constitution were very specific in 1789 about what they called “separation of church and state.” Indeed, the colonists came to America because they were not allowed to practice their own religion in England.

To be sure there was no confusion, the Bill of Rights begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In 1962, the Supreme Court made a ruling that banned organized prayer and Bible readings from public schools. It ruled that prayer in school violated this concept of separation of church and state.

The question of prayer in school came up again a few months ago when Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said he wanted Congress to pass a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer. Three-quarters of the states would have to approve it, too.

For sure, the debate is going to get a lot louder before any amendment is passed. And kids will be directly affected by the outcome.

WHAT DO KIDS THINK?

• Mike Viselli, 9, Grand Ledge, Mich.: “I think it’s a good idea because it (gives you) confidence when you pray. It helps you to know that God is on your side.”

• Ronnie Hyatt, 12, Merrit Island, Fla-: “I like school the way it is. I wouldn’t like it if it were like. church. I don’t want to be made to pray in school.”

• Samantha Bain,13, Keedysville, Md.: “(It would not) be that bad to have to say a silent prayer. But I wouldn’t like to say one aloud. Maybe it’s because I go to church, so I’m used to praying. Some kids may not like it, though. But for me, I think it would be OK.”

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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