Many Americans have joined the outcry to “bring prayer back to schools!” Well-meaning, morally upstanding patriots lament the day that government “kicked God out of our schools” on July 25, 1962, as a result of the contentious Supreme Court ruling on Engel vs. Vitale. This 8-1 decision determined that school-sponsored prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Justice Hugo Black, describing the majority reasoning, interpreted the Establishment Clause as a means to prevent government interference in religion, extending this to include non-denominational prayer. Justice William Douglas, in his concurring opinion, expanded this restriction to forbid government financial aid to religious schools. This ruling, while initiated by a New York state disagreement, resulted in a nation-wide ban on school-sponsored prayer in public schools and a prohibition on tax funds for religious schools or school-sponsored activities in public schools.
Explaining his sole dissent, Justice Potter Stewart argued that the Establishment Clause only prohibited a state-sponsored church. He reasoned that, in accordance with the traditional interpretation of the First Amendment, a non-denominational prayer offered by school staff did not “establish religion”.
Interestingly, the majority opinion went so far as to add the observation that government involvement in religious affairs often resulted in persecutions and wars.
Now, 55 years later, there is a flap regarding faith in a Frisco, Texas school. About seven years ago, the administration of Liberty High School designated a classroom for Muslim students to use for 30 minutes to comply with their religious requirement to pray five times a day. According to Principal Scott Warstler, this solution was offered to reduce the number of Muslim students who were being dismissed from school in the middle of each afternoon to be transported to their home or mosque for their corporate prayer time. The room serves as a regular classroom during the rest of the day. Students of all faiths may use the room for prayer during the same designated period, although Principle Warstler admitted that it is not typically used for prayer by students who are not Muslim.
How does this arrangement conform to the Engel vs. Vitale Supreme Court ruling in strict effect since 1962? School property, funded by taxpayers, is being used primarily to accommodate the specific faith requirements of one religion. The school district argues that the prayers are led by the students themselves and the room is open to all faiths during that prescribed prayer time, thus remaining in compliance with the law.
The Frisco high school campus is not the first to offer accommodations to the Islamic faith. Schools in Tucson, Arizona, Riverdale, Maryland, and San Diego, California have all made accommodations for Muslim students for prayer.
Due to the high population of Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, Muslim students attending public school are allowed prayer accommodations and early release from classes on Fridays.
So, faithful Americans can rest easy- prayer has been returned to public schools!
Parents may want to ask their own children how often they take advantage of this opportunity.