Two recent bills before state legislatures have shone a new light on a half-century of controversy. In Alabama, a 30-year ban on the teaching of yoga has been dropped, and in Florida state officials are seeking to make two minutes of silence for prayer or reflection a mandatory part of school days.
Both of these developments are positive steps to fill a hole in the education of our children. Put simply, they open the door to a restoration of prayer in public schools.
For several decades now, American society has operated under a false assumption that banning prayer in public schools is irrevocable settled science. This belief, and it is very much a belief, is rooted in the 1962 Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale in which the Warren court found 6-1 that school-sponsored prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The suit was brought in New York state by parents who objected to the non-denominational prayer that referenced “Almighty God” in Hyde Park, New York. It is important to note that the parents lost their case before the Supreme Court of New York, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, and the Court of Appeals of New York, only to achieve victory in the nation’s highest court. So this was anything but an open and shut, obvious decision.
Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black opined that, “the First Amendment was added to the Constitution to stand as a guarantee that neither the power nor the prestige of the Federal Government would be used to control, support or influence the kinds of prayer the American people can say.”
This is a strange construction given that prayer always has been and remains a mainstay of government activity. Congress opens each day with a prayer, and in a 5-4 decision in 2014, the court found in favor of Greece, New York’s practice of opening monthly meetings with Christian prayer. That decision was supported by both Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell.
Prayer Is Allowed, But Is It Valued?
This mixed bag of jurisprudence indicates it is not at all
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