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America’s earliest schools integrated Biblical studies into the curriculum. As the 19th century dawned, the government gradually took responsibility for education, beginning with Massachusetts educator Horace Mann, who promoted a secular education to prepare children for the workforce in 1837.[1]

Prayer and Bible reading continued in schools, but conflicts arose between Catholics and Protestants over which Bibles and which prayers the instructors used.[2] Entering the 20th century, the Supreme Court engaged in the first of many cases to apply the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment to such controversies. Two of the most well-known Supreme Court cases – Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) – declared school-sponsored required prayer and Bible reading unconstitutional.[3]

Different opinions have arisen over the appropriateness of prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Opponents complain of indoctrination, pointing out that schools serve to “educate, not to proselytize”.[4] They support government neutrality toward religion, and believe that non-neutrality encourages discrimination.

Proponents herald the moral strengthening children gain through prayer and indicate the historical religious atmosphere of America, both in government and in public.[5] A 2006 Pew Forum survey found that 68% of Americans think liberals have “ ‘gone too far in…keep[ing] religion out of the schools…’ ” [2]  

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Without a doubt, America is a nation of diversity. Its citizens hail from different ethnicities, different cultures, and different religions. In their rulings banning school-sponsored prayer and Bible reading, the Supreme Court seeks to respect those many backgrounds.

I agree that schools should not mandate school prayer or Bible reading. The decision to live in and learn about God and His will should be that of the individual, and not required of them by an external power. However, the practices should not be banned either.

Following the Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969) case that upheld the freedom of student speech, several interest groups composed and submitted to the Department of Education a set of guidelines regarding religious expression in schools.[2] Its four general principles give students the right to engage in religious activity as much as they do in secular, allow prayer or blessing to the same extent as others wishing to express their personal views, prohibit religious harassment or aggressive proselytizing, and promote religious tolerance.

With these guidelines, I agree. 

What do you think about prayer and Bible reading in public schools?

[1] Notgrass Exploring Government
[2] Religion in the public schools
[3] The Supreme Court and prayer
[4] Prayer in public school
[5] 10 reasons for school prayer