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)
I have three problems with this:
- 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.
- Children should NOT have to be made to feel uncomfortable at one of the most important days of their lives, their high school graduation.
- 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.
**Emphasis mine. --AY5 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.
6 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.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
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 ThinkAtheist.com, the best social networking site for freethinkers, and from this video. Thanks to everyone who inspires me; I hope I do you proud.)