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I'm seeing claims (e.g. The Sneeze) that it's not just teachers and staff who are not allowed to conduct religious activities, but that even students are not allowed to conduct them – that even the mention of "God" at a school event is somehow not allowed. Is this true? --Woozle 20:59, 30 May 2006 (EDT)

It depends on the case, the school, the teacher, etc. My son has been reprimanded for saying a private prayer to himself before lunch at school. For me that falls under the First Amendment, " exercise thereof..." This is one of the biggest issues I have with the ACLU. They will fight for vulgarians and others to say what offensive garbage they want, but not fight for the free exercise of religion. Midian 16:17, 28 July 2006 (EDT)
I think I agree with you on this one; I'm no fan of religion, by any means, but I do feel pretty strongly that personal, private prayer should be allowed. Can you come up with any examples of the ACLU declining to defend such a case? I should add that I do see a potential problem when the prayer (or other religious speech) goes beyond the personal (private prayer, or speech between friends), but I think it can be treated as ethically equivalent to advertising -- annoying and inappropriate in some contexts (like McDonald's printing the school's nutrition guide) but helpful in others (Craig's List), and there should be similar guidelines for governing when it is allowed. --Woozle 19:04, 28 July 2006 (EDT)
Actually, given what I've learned since 2006, I'm pretty sure it's a total myth that the ACLU refuses to defend the free exercise of religion; I gather then have many times defended it, including Christian expressions. I should be able to find sources for this if it's still in question. --Woozle (talk) 22:23, 19 April 2013 (EDT)


Midian says

While the first amendment specifically prevents Congress from making a law respecting an establishment of religion, it does not prevent govermental bodies from engaging in prayer. This is neither making a law, nor establishing a religion, only practicing the "free exercise thereof," also included in the first amendment.

The free exercise means anyone at anytime has the right to practice their religion, either publicly or privately, up unto the point where it infringes on someone else's rights.

No one has the right to not be offended, despite our current PC culture.

Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. Midian 13:03, 2 August 2006 (EDT)

response from Woozle

I think I've outlined the overall issues pretty thoroughly in separation of church and state (just now, I mean; I've added some chunks since you posted the above, Midian).

I look at it in two ways:

  • legally/objectively:
    • A teacher is both the voice of the state (which is constrained by the establishment clause) and a private citizen (who has the rights of free exercise and free speech). Which one applies?
    • I'm not going to argue that students should be prohibited from private prayer; that seems like a clear case of free speech being stifled by Political Correctness.
    • Should students be allowed to use government property to assemble for religious purposes? This one is more tangled, but there is room for solutions (don't have time to expound right now).
  • personally/subjectively:
    • Private, quiet prayer is fine. Trying to suppress that is going too far.
    • Groups of students meeting on their own for prayer is arguably ok, but I think we need to guard against such groups becoming cliques who curry favoritism with the teaching staff (think of the Omegas in Animal House)... especially if the teaching staff is already predisposed favorably towards religious tendencies.
    • School-organized events at which a student invokes prayer (as in The Sneeze)... well, I tend to think that should be okay too, though I'd want to hear more about this from teachers and students in the anti-prayer camp, to see if there's any reason to think it could be a problem.
    • School-organized prayer events, or school-organized events at which a teacher invokes prayer, are basically using taxpayer money to spread the religion meme. If you think religion is a good thing, then this probably doesn't bother you. I happen to think (and apparently a lot of people agree, though unfortunately not a clear majority) that religion benefits some individuals, in the short term, but is harmful to society in general, in the long term, and that the collective harm generally outweighs the individual good.
    • In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that religion is a lot like commercialism. We all benefit (in the short term) from, for example, fast food: it's convenient, it's cheap, and it tastes good... but in the long term we pay the cost in poor health, not to mention the godawful advertising jingles and billboards. The strictness, simplicity, and social structure religion provides can save some people from the chaos in their lives, and probably prevents a lot of misery and death – but the cost over the long term is our ability to engage in rational debate, as a society. It's a devil's deal, same as the Big Macs.
    • So I propose that religion in school be treated much the same as any commercial intrusion into public education – which, currently, we are tolerating far too much... but fair's fair; if McDonald's is allowed to provide the food pyramid display in exchange for being allowed to call french fries a basic food group (I exaggerate for emphasis, but I've seen the commercial logos on the materials the kids have brought home), then it's only fair that we should allow the Baptist Church to provide the science materials... and the local Moslem mosque can bid against the local Temple of Israel for the contract to print materials on the history of the Middle East...
    • ...all of which would be horrible if it happened. Each of these organizations has an agenda, and we shouldn't be trusting any of them as educational providers. I hope I've made my point. (I'm writing this after my bedtime, though, and it will probably seem a lot less clever when I reread it tomorrow morning.) --Woozle 21:51, 2 August 2006 (EDT)
    • addendum: I didn't get around to explaining the practical upshot of this. Just as kids are allowed to wear t-shirts advertising Coke, or to say aloud that a particular brand of clothing "rocks", they should be allowed to make religious statements aloud or wear religious symbols. Giving a speech about how wonderful Amway is, however, would probably be considered in bad taste at best. Inviting everyone in school to your mom's tupperware party would also be questionable. Thinking of it this way might not make it obvious what the rules should be, but it at least takes a bit of the emotional charge out of the issue. --Woozle 09:54, 3 August 2006 (EDT)
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