from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal: [ djournal.com ]
MARY THOMAS: Whose prayers do we want in our schools?
8/19/2006 9:55:26 PMDaily Journal
It was spring of last year, the week for middle school standardized tests. I was
standing in front of a 7th grade classroom serving as a proctor, watching as the
teacher carefully placed test booklets on each desk.
Just before the teacher gave
permission for the students to begin, I saw it. Several heads bowed in
prayer.Unsolicited and from the heart. Can there be a greater prayer?A more
With school now in full swing, it seems an appropriate time to
bring up the ever-controversial topic of prayer in public schools.We've all
heard the argument - "They've taken God out of public schools."Well, someone
forgot to tell those 7th grade students that God no longer walks among them.
When 12- and 13-year-olds reverently bow their heads, especially when not
required to do so, God is present, indeed.Try this scenarioBut for argument's
sake, let's say the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the famous Engel v. Vitale
ruling, that prohibited schools from reciting any kind of prayer composed by
school districts:Tomorrow is the start of a new school week, and now prayer will
be part of the school's daily discipline. The news is spreading fast around
Tupelo, and thousands of Christians are pouring onto Gloster and West Main to
celebrate. A Prayer Parade has been organized by town churches. Neighbors are
calling neighbors. Prayer warriors are furiously typing emails with the good
news about the Good News.But, hold on a minute. Why are the Muslims dancing
beside the Christians? And, isn't that a Jewish family lighting sparklers? Why
are they so happy? And who told the Hindus they could have a float?Monday comes.
Hanging on a nail in one elementary classroom is a clipboard tightly grasping a
sheet of notebook paper. At the top, it reads "Prayer Preacher for the Day,"
with each student's name listed underneath. The teacher explains that, to be
fair and respectful to each child's faith, they will rotate prayers."Just think
of this as a spiritual show and tell," the teacher says.On Tuesday, the first
Prayer Preacher - Billy Hankins - walks to the front of the class. Billy's
prayer is from the heart, calling on God to save the souls of all
non-Christians. One of Billy's classmates and a recess buddy who attends a local
synagogue stares down at his desk.On Wednesday, Mary Margaret O'Malley proudly
marches to the front. As she opens a brown paper lunch bag and pulls out a
handful of plastic, glow-in-the-dark Rosaries, Mary Margaret announces they
would be saying a whole decade of the Hail Mary, praying especially for all the
souls in Purgatory.The teacher spews a mouthful of coffee all over the "Prayer
Preacher" clipboard.As class is dismissed for the day, a student runs up to the
already frazzled teacher and excitedly announces, " I can't wait til I pray
tomorrow. I'm bringing snakes!"Why it won't workDon't you see why organized
prayer would never work in public school? If it isn't our form of prayer, the
way we believe, the way we want our children to believe, we would be offended.
Instead, the spiritual formation of children belongs in the homes and in our
places of worship.Remember, Jesus always walked away from the crowds to be alone
with His Father. As far as His prayer life was concerned, He never felt the need
to "show and tell."Mary Thomas, a parent and community volunteer, lives in
Tupelo and writes as a community columnist. Her e-mail address is