Saturday, April 14, 2012

Public High School Graduations and Public Prayer

It's that time of year again - high school graduation. It's a joyous time for everyone - teachers, administrators, and most of all parents and students. Students are excited about closing this chapter and opening a new one in their lives, and parents are relieved that they made it through 12 years of school without killing them ;)

But all is not well in this picture. 

A common tradition at many high schools, especially rural ones and/or Southern ones, is to have a moment where people are commanded, "everyone bow their heads to pray", and the person at the podium leads everyone in a prayer; quite often it is the Lord's Prayer. If you're a Christian, this may seem like a nice tradition, and quite normal; if, however you're not a Christian - and you don't have to be an atheist, you could be a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any number of other NON-Christian religions - you feel, at the least, a bit awkward, and at the most extremely uncomfortable, isolated, and maybe even offended. The problem is that if you ARE a non-Christian, you almost certainly will keep your feelings of isolation to yourself. Why? Because in many (most?) circumstances you will be a pariah, persecuted, and forever branded as "other". I know, I have been there. Don't believe me? There is ample evidence to back me up, even quite recently. Here are a few examples:
  • Jennifer Ahlquist: She complained to the school board that a prayer banner hanging in the school was a violation of the Separation of Church and State (she's right). The issue was taken to court, and she was proven right. She has received NUMEROUS death threats from supposed "Christians", including this one. Incidentally, I am friends with many, many true Christians who are as offended and appalled at this as I am. They also agree with the Separation of Church and State. (2012)
  •  Nicole Smalkowski: At 13 her family moved to an 80-acre ranch in rural Oklahoma. Nicole was a great athlete, even played on the football team. During basketball season the team gathered after the games to recite the Lord's Prayer. She complained, was ostracized, and was even attacked publicly by town officials. Story here, video here. (2007)
  • Bastrop High School: Damon Fowler, an atheist and graduating senior at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, complained about the prayers scheduled to be part of his commencement ceremony. After consulting with an attorney, the school agreed to drop the prayer. Unfortunately, Damon has since been ostracized by the community and even attacked by a school official in the local newspaper (Mitzi Quinn). His parents also kicked him out of his home. Yes, his own parents. (2011)
These are but a few of the more public stories, and trust me there are many; what's scary is how many others are unreported? And let's not even talk about the countless thousands who sit and suffer in silence because they don't want to experience the, ahem, "Christian Love" displayed in these other stories.

I have three problems with this:
  1. This is a CLEAR violation of the Separation of Church and State. This has been proven many, many times in court - including all three stories mentioned above.
  2. Children should NOT have to be made to feel uncomfortable at one of the most important days of their lives, their high school graduation.
  3. As a Christian, you have infinite time to pray - before the ceremony, after, even during (to yourself). You can even get together in big groups and do it publicly. But doing it as an OFFICIAL, public part of the ceremony is wrong - and unnecessary. Incidentally, I do not know of a SINGLE non-Christian who has a problem with a Moment of Silence; this should suffice and would be acceptable to everyone, for the aforementioned reasons.
I have one other observation: demanding a public demonstration of prayer is BLATANTLY HYPOCRITICAL. The prayer that is most often recited publicly is Matthew 6:9-16 (NIV), otherwise known as the Lord's Prayer. What is so sad (it's almost comical) is that hardly any Christians - especially the ones who DEMAND a public prayer - know anything about the Bible other than what they are told. Take, for instance, the verses directly preceding the Lord's Prayer. Have you actually read the Lord's Prayer, in context, in the Bible? For those who aren't familiar with it, I give you Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV):

5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
 **Emphasis mine. --AY

So, if you are a Christian, I would like to ask you to reconsider your stance on "sanctioned" Public Prayer, at any public school-sponsored event. I've given you many reasons why; but if all the others fall on deaf ears, then I beseech you to listen to your God, who has clearly told you to not do it.

--AY (written by Rocky Oliver)

(NOTE: Inspiration and information for this post came from, the best social networking site for freethinkers, and from this video. Thanks to everyone who inspires me; I hope I do you proud.)


  1. You're off to a good start buddy. Before I got to the end I was going to chime in with Matthew 6:5 as well, it's one of my favorite parts of the Bible, one that seems to always be forgotten.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Great first post. The problem is that the Christians don't see a problem. Except for us being a pain in the ass.

  3. @Marc - thanks. I agree re: Matt 6:5-8, and there's so much more like this. It is amazing how much the Bible is used like a buffet to support basically whatever you want, without actually understanding context. And most followers have NO IDEA what the context actually is.

    @Unknown - I agree. It amazes me how little they consider the feelings and beliefs of others. Many of them have the attitude of, "if you don't believe as I do, then your beliefs and feelings don't count." It's sad.


  4. As a Christian i would agree with most of this, and separation of church and state is all good. And we should never threaten or demean anyone because of how they believe. I am sorry for your isolation and how it made you feel. Threatening people inst any way to win them over is it? ;-)

    Public prayer is a tradition in the south more than anything else. So when you say you shouldn't do it, it makes SOME feel you are attacking everything they know, have experienced, were raised.

    As a Man i feel we are becoming pansies, oh he called me a name, oh he made me feel uncomfortable... Man up. I could spend all day being offended or hurt about what others say or do, but i cant control them, the only thing i can control is how i let it effect me.

    Being uncomfortable or lonely inst any fun, its just your circumstance. Your society that you live in believes vastly different things than you, so how would you expect them to act? Do you expect them to change, because if you are you are going to be disappointed.

  5. @Anonymous Christian - I actually agree with everything you said, even the "man up" part - FOR ADULTS. If you notice, my main issue - outside of the Church and State problem, which is huge - is that the people being made to feel horrible and isolated are CHILDREN. As I said before, this is the first really huge moment of their lives, and many of them - who are mainly those that are members of other religions, more than the nonreligious - are made to feel rotten. That's not right.

    Another thing: we teach our children to stand up for what's right, that being a part of the majority does not make them right, and so on. We tell them that they fight against the things they find wrong. Well, when a few of them actually do this - and let's not forget that the courts have agreed with these brave children, every time - they are ostracized, persecuted, are made into pariahs, and some are even disowned by their families. For doing the very thing we, as teachers, as parents, as a society, taught them to do. Does that seem right?

    Yes the world isn't fair. Yes you have to learn to "man up", to pick your battles, etc. But - as I said before - being a majority does not make the majority right. Fighting the things that are wrong - that are against the very foundation and laws are country was built upon - is a just cause.

    I just wish our society wouldn't beat down children and teens who are doing this very thing for the first time. THAT isn't right, either.


  6. Remember to teach them that when you challenge societal norms it does not usually turn out good for the one doing the challenging.

    I wish they didn't have to stand on their own, and the persecution is inexcusable. It would be better to have someone fight for you , to take the punishment

    But most are not that lucky


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