Opinion: The Only Way to Protect Our Children Is to Ban Religion From Schools

Walter Rhein

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It shouldn’t be controversial to say that parents have a right to know what materials teachers give their children at public schools. The Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow “voluntary” prayer raises a lot of questions.

The case in question is that of a football coach who led “voluntary” prayers after football games. However, there is significant concern that this ruling could open the door to problematic behavior.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 that a high school football coach was allowed to pray with his team on the public school's football field. On its surface, the ruling might seem fairly benign—but it isn't. It overturns decades of previous decisions regarding prayer in school, and as a (non-Christian) person of faith, this decision absolutely terrifies me—Christine Organ

First of all, what is the legal definition of a “voluntary” meeting? There is an inherent problem that prayer on public school grounds might be “voluntary” in name only.

In dissent, Sotomayor wrote Monday that players “recognize that gaining the coach’s approval may pay dividends small and large, from extra playing time to a stronger letter of recommendation to additional support in college athletic recruiting.” And she said “some students reported joining Kennedy’s prayer because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates.”—Court backs coach who prays after games

But the question that hasn’t been raised is what authority parents retain to review what was said.

Teachers have a huge influence on your children. However, districts hire teachers based on their qualifications in a certain content area. It is not to the benefit of a student when teachers present information that is outside of their qualifications.

Federal officials say that every child deserves a quality teacher — one who has expertise and credentials in his or her field. And last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked states to prepare an "equity plan" by April 2015 to ensure that all students, especially minority and poor children, are not disproportionately taught by inexperienced, unqualified teachers—Study shows many teachers not credentialed in their subjects

If the Supreme Court opens the door to more teachers leading “voluntary” prayer groups, parents have a right to ask these teachers to provide their qualifications for leading these groups.

As a parent, I want to know what information is being exchanged from the teacher to my child. I would like a written version of any “voluntary” prayer whether or not my child elects to participate.

Even if my child does not participate in the “voluntary” prayer, that prayer will have a significant impact on my child’s educational environment.

As a parent, I want to know what the teacher is conditioning the other students in my child’s classroom to think. Oddly, many conservative groups will likely object to this request. However, it aligns with their own stated philosophy.

The Moms for America guidebook, released Tuesday, notes that Congress recognized the “primary responsibility” of parents to educate their children when it created the Education Department in 1979. That includes parents’ rights to sit in on their children’s classes and review school records if they suspect a teacher is hiding something about lessons on gender identity or racism, the Missouri-based group says—Conservatives say parents have right to know their child’s pronouns at school

In modern society, conservatives demand they have the right to monitor the materials teachers present in class.

Conservatives and parents’ rights activists argue that this anger stems from parents pushing back against what they say is the influence institutions like Hollywood, corporate America, and the government have in the classroom—Fight over parental rights in schools reaches fever pitch

Just as conservatives are concerned about the influence of “Hollywood,” I am concerned about the influence of religion. It’s the exact same concern. Conservatives and liberals should be able to agree that parents have a right to review materials.

The problem is that a “voluntary” prayer given after a school event, but still on school grounds, could contain anything. People often come up with prayers right on the spot, and that can be a reckless way to communicate.

It should be clear that no teacher leading a “voluntary” prayer should be able to say anything that contradicts the school's bullying policies, or any other policy meant to protect students. Parents cannot know whether or not this is happening unless they review the materials.

The idea that religious individuals can conduct “voluntary” prayer on public property should not be a free for all. They should not be exempt from all the other rules and regulations that are in place to protect children.

An English teacher cannot decide to conduct a “voluntary” Calculus study group just because he has deep personal beliefs about mathematics. There are already too many instances of teachers presenting information that they are unqualified to teach. This leads to misinformation that is detrimental to a child’s future.

What religious qualifications should teachers who want to conduct “voluntary” prayer have? How do parents know that they aren’t misrepresenting the religion?

Why do Americans think that just because the word “prayer” is involved, the outcome is automatically positive. "Prayer" could mean anything. You could disguise propaganda from any philosophy you wanted and claim it was a prayer. A poorly worded or hateful prayer can be just as harmful to a student as a math class conducted by an unqualified teacher.

Our country can’t continue to use our children as pawns in a poorly thought out battle between secular and religious thinking. This is exactly why the Founding Fathers designated the separation of church and state.

Any teacher that wants to conduct a “voluntary” prayer should expect to be held to the same requirements as he would for the presentation of any other classroom materials. If those prayers are given on public property, than parents reserve the right to review a printed version of the prayer.

How could anyone reasonably object to this requirement? What are they trying to hide?

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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