We’ve all seen it. The meme that inevitably pops up on social media after a mass shooting or some other random and tragic act of violence at a school and sticks around for a few weeks like a bad cold. “God, why do you allow such violence in schools? Because I’m not allowed in schools anymore. ~God” or something of the like.
But does praying in schools actually keep faculty, staff and students safer? Since 2005 there have been several shootings at religiously affiliated schools:
- On October 2, 2006, 32-year-old Charles Carl Roberts entered an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA, separated the boys from the girls, bound and shot the girls, killing 5 of them and injuring 6 more. (1)
- On March 6, 2012, 28-year-old Shane Schumerth, a teacher who had recently been fired from the Episcopal School of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL entered the campus and killed Dean Dale Regan before committing suicide. (2)
- On April 2, 2012, 43-year-old One L. Goh, a former student at Oikos University, a Korean Christian College in Oakland, CA, ordered nursing students to line up against a wall and opened fire, killing 7 and injuring 3 more before being taken into custody. (3)
- On January 7, 2013, 27-year-old Kristopher Smith was killed in the parking lot of the Apostolic Revival Center Christian School in what was believed to be a retaliation killing. The suspect was never caught. (4)
- On October 4, 2013, 2 students at Agape Christian Academy in Pine Hills, FL were injured after a fight broke out and another student pulled a gun and began firing. The suspect fled by car and was never apprehended. (5)
- On January 15, 2015, 37-year-old Michael Riley pulled a gun and fired at 2 teenagers he was arguing with in the parking lot of the Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, WI. During the altercation 3 bystanders were injured. (6)
The evidence would seem to point to the fact that praying in schools does not bring God to lower some protective shield over our schools. And, as history would prove, just being a religious person does not automatically make you less likely to kill. After all we Christians slaughtered millions of people in the Crusades and thousands more in the witch hunts in Europe (not to mention the 80 or so people we killed right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A) just to name a few of the mass historical slaughters that can be laid at the feet of believers of God. Not to mention the number of domestic terrorists in modern times that have claimed Christianity as their own.
So why do people keep using that phrase “Put God back in schools!”? The answer to that one is easy. Because of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. For those who may not be familiar with this, it reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
So let’s break down the part of this that has to do with religion, since that’s what we’re talking about here.
Part one: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” What that means, in a nutshell, is that the government of the United States cannot make any law that promotes a specific religion. This part of the Establishment Clause is often referred to as the separation of church and state, meaning that no person who works for the government – i.e. Congressman, the President, public school teachers, judges, postal employees, county clerks, etc. – cannot, in their capacity as a government official, promote any one religion.
Part two: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” This gives you – a private citizen – the right to freely exercise your religion however you see fit. It means that you – as a private citizen – can practice whatever religion you want, in whatever way you want, whenever you want and nobody can stop you. And that includes your kids while they’re at school. That’s right, your children have a constitutional right to pray, read their Bible, even lead a prayer or Bible study group of other students on their school campus, during school hours and there is nothing that anyone can legally do to stop them. In fact, there have been several instances in which teachers or staff have tried to stop students from practicing their freedom of religion, the school or staff were taken to court and the student won the suit.
But when you become an employee of the government – in any capacity, if your paycheck is coming from any government entity – then you are no longer a private citizen when you are at work and you, while you are at work, are no longer allowed to publicly practice your freedom of religion. That being said, if you are a teacher and you want to pray before you eat, go ahead. But don’t ask your students to pray with you because that is you – as a representative of the government – promoting a specific religion. If you are the principal of a high school and a group of parents ask you to lead the prayer at a graduation ceremony you – as per the constitution of the United States – are required to step down because that is promoting a specific religion as a government official. But if you want to lead a moment of silence instead in which everyone in the audience is able to pray however he or she wishes, then you can do that and be within your rights. Of course, if you work for a religiously affiliated private school than you no longer work for the government and you can pray with your students all day long if that’s what you want.
So is God still allowed in schools? Absolutely. Because God is wherever those who believe in him are. Just because you, as a teacher or a principal, may not be allowed to lead your students in prayer does not mean that you can’t still worship. Just because you can’t preach and spread the gospel from your desk does not mean that your religious rights are being stepped on. And maybe us being forced to practice a more quiet religion would be good for some of us. Maybe, by being made to turn inward for our God fix for just those few hours a day, we can find something more meaningful, something deeper than what we had before.