| | |

Two Stories about Prayer in School

. . . but they supposedly recount one incident.

The first came to me via the Traditional Values Coalition alert e-mail, which is generally quite strident. It referred me to this story on Alain’s Newsletter, which tends to make the TVC alerts look calm, collected, and irenic.

Now here’s another story, this time from The Columbian. You need to read both stories to get the picture here. I’m not going to quote extensively from them.

I think one can get most of the facts out of these stories, if one ignores the hyperbole and possible reconstructions. But if you look at what is reported and what is emphasized in each story, you will see an excellent example of how to slant news. It’s not by actually concocting facts from thin air. I think completely fabricated data is quite rare, but creative selection is quite another matter. Rather, it’s by means of reporting certain specific things.

You see, if a group of students were refused permission to pray outside of class time and without disrupting the activities of the school, in other words, in good discipline, I would certainly be angry at the school. This sort of thing does happen, but it’s generally the result of ignorant school officials, lacking good judgment and sometimes fearful of lawsuits, though if they’re that stupid they should be subject to lawsuits. On this point everyone from the ACLU to the ACLJ can agree.

I’m firmly in favor of prayer. I’ve written a couple of books on it, though only one is still in print. I teach weekend seminars on prayer. I’m not against prayer. Got that? So if the facts were solely as stated in the Alain’s Newsletter report, then no problem. Reinstate the students and let them pray.

But there were certain things that defied probability, and so I looked for other stories to see if things would clarify themselves just a bit. I was doubtful of the claim that complaints came from “one Satanist” student. That’s one of those elements of a story that’s just too good (for the side of the writer) to be true. It might be, but I doubt it. Note that the offer of a classroom in which to offer prayer is missing from the Alain’s report.

Now constitutionally I’m not 100% on the boundaries, but if the facts are as The Columbian reported them, I think the school officials will turn out to be within their rights, even though their reaction sounds excessive to me based on the provocation. Other facts could change my mind on that. On the other hand, if the disruption of traffic resulted from hecklers, and not from the actions of the praying students, I would be opposed to the actions of the school officials. The problem is that it is precisely key facts such as that one that are hard to dig out once emotions are high.

I think the following facts are key:

  • The offer of a classroom and the appropriate supervision
  • Was it the praying students or hecklers who were disruptive (or a little of both)?
  • What was the response of the praying students to the school’s authority? If that authority was properly exercised, and yet resisted, that would explain greater sanctions.

But more important than the legal issues, which are not my forte in any case, are the issues of Christian values. When we pray publicly, what message is it that we are trying to send? There is a good point here in Matthew 6:5-6. I don’t think we should read such a short message as condemning public prayer, as I have heard done, but the purpose of prayer should be questioned. If the purpose of the prayer is to make a show, to shove it in people’s face, then I think we need to reevaluate our actions. For example, if a classroom was indeed offered, as the school spokesman indicated, then the question would be why pray in the commons?

Again, I think it is quite possible that more facts need to be brought out in this case, but based on what I have seen I would have serious concerns, both about the actions of the students and the sanctions imposed. I’ll have my eyes open for more clarification.

Similar Posts