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Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools, by Robert S. Alley

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Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools, by Robert S. Alley

Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools, by Robert S. Alley

What is wrong with having prayer in school? Many people in the United States believe that organized classroom prayers would be good for the moral and spiritual development of the children, and it is true that such prayers were common in schools for a very long time. Others, however, argue that schools, as representatives of state power, should not get involved with religious rituals, either to hinder or to help them. So who is right?

Summary

Title: Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools
Author: Robert S. Alley
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1573920975

Pro:
• History of Prayer in Schools
• Personal Stories of Affected People

Con:
• None

Description:
• History of Prayer in Public Schools
• Many personal accounts of what has happened to actual people
• Demonstration of why the separation of church and state is vital

Book Review

Robert S. Alley’s book Without a Prayer explores exactly this question, and demonstrates without a doubt that when schools act to advance or support religion in schools, the children end up being harmed. He also demonstrates how words like “nonpreferentialism,” “toleration,” and “accommodation” get used to mask the real goals of religious indoctrination:

    As currently employed, the very concept of accommodation suggests the need of the state to define that to which it is making accommodation. And accommodate to what? Who is to accommodate whom? Which demands require accommodation? Which may be legitimately denied? Would it be so simple to substitute for “it’s just a little prayer” the phrase “it’s just a little satan adoration”? The power to accommodate is the power to control and therefore to refuse accommodation.

But what is especially important about Alley’s book is that it isn’t simply an intellectual journey through arcane court decisions and legal theory. The bulk of the book is made up of the personal and often outrageous stories of real people who have suffered at the hands of neighbors and other Christians when they have spoken up against organized school prayers.

How have we gotten to the point where neighbors threaten each other over such things? The current battle lines were drawn in 1962 and 1963, after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp. The former prohibited officially organized prayers, and the latter prohibited officially organized bible readings. People were outraged that the government would no longer be involved in religious support and education.

Ever since, there have been hundreds of violations of these decisions, with people looking for any way possible to reintroduce religion as something officially endorsed by government schools — and every time these cases are taken to trial, the original decisions are reaffirmed and even strengthened. Many Christians see this as a defeat of Christian culture, not recognizing that it is a victory for religious liberty and diversity.

Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools, by Robert S. Alley

Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools, by Robert S. Alley

But by relating the many stories of humans suffering which has resulted from attempts to ignore these court rulings, Alley also makes the case that the decisions are a victory for human rights. This is because the power of prayer is not being used to heal or unite, but instead to discriminate against religious minorities and dissenters.

When children at school are attacked and injured without school authorities making an effort to help or protect, their human rights are being violated. When a family receives death threats and their house is burned down without authorities stopping the violence, their human rights are being violated.

And when all of this is done in the name of school prayer, it demonstrates that the controversy goes well beyond the simple matter of whether or not children’s rights to free exercise of religion is being infringed upon. The real issues are underlying questions of whose beliefs will be dominant and authoritative in a community. The effort to establish prayers is an effort to establish certain beliefs and a certain religious perspective as the identity of a community, rejecting diversity and dissent.

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