CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Schools have not been allowed to have prayers for the entire student body since the Engel vs. Vitale Supreme Court case in 1962. America has always prided itself on its First Amendment right to freedom of religion, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Since the First Amendment was first written, it has taken the United States centuries (until just the past few decades) to become more sensitive to other religions and non-religions. With more people transitioning from Christianity to Buddhism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Confucianism, Judaism, Rastafarianism and so many more, there are no limits to what people worship or do not worship today.
But Christianity is still the prevalent religion in the United States, and it has a lot of leverage.
Separation of church and state is a very important idea in the United States. It allows for government institutions and ideals to be kept separate from religious ones. Since the Supreme Court ruled that schools can no longer engage students in prayer, schools have become part of this muddy separation.
Pocahontas County High School senior Emily Hefner agrees with this.
"I still think the church should be separate from the state," she said.
It has become more common for schools to receive students from many different backgrounds and religions. Prayer for an entire student body is no longer acceptable because of the variety of beliefs a single population now can share. A single prayer could satisfy one group of students but cause a revolt amongst another, thus causing the entire learning environment of the school to be upset and unproductive.
"I think we should be allowed to say our prayers if we please," said Pocahontas County senior Caleb Arbogast, who noted that people who are "born and raised" with a specific religion may not feel safe unless they pray throughout the day.
Students who wish to pray quietly to themselves throughout the day are allowed to do so. Student-led prayers are also acceptable, as long as they are not intended to influence an entire student body.
Hefner said, "When it comes to the point they are pushing [their religion] on other people, [prayer] should not be allowed."
But even students who intend to pray quietly to themselves without influencing others risk hazing and bullying. Voicing a religion can lead to a hostile environment for some students whose religions or non-religions are not accepted by others. No one wants to go to school feeling as if they have to follow a particular religion to be accepted.
This is why schools are a poor place for prayer. Even when the praying is quietly done, hostile students may jump on the chance to bully someone solely because of his or her religion.
The effects of prayer in schools, especially school-wide prayer, can be insensitive to many religions and non-religions, and it could ultimately be worse for the school environment. Prayer is a personal experience, and no matter how someone decides to worship, sensitivity from everyone is probably the best bet.
Prayer should not be part of the school system. In this case, the separation of church and state can help avoid potential bullying, hostilities and a disruptive learning environment.