So, I am speaking for the affirmative to declare, that school prayer should be prohibited, and whilst this may seem a contentious topic, I think that with more information you can come to see how the prohibition of school prayer would be beneficial to all students and teachers no matter their beliefs or values.
Okay, what is school prayer? For the purposes of this debate, I would define “school prayer” as: a teacher or school administrator or someone selected/hired by school staff leading groups including at least one student to pray (silently or aloud) with the intent to commune with a figure or concept of religious or spiritual significance.
Now, I feel the need to define this, because firstly, this is not an argument against “prayer in schools” but “school prayer”. To me, prayer in schools is different. I am not advocating to infringe upon any single students personal right to pray, or to encourage their friends to pray. My contention is wholeheartedly with the concept of a public institution encouraging prayer in a learning environment.
My first point is that religion is divisive. There are thousands of religions in this world, all over the world, and most countries are multi-cultural countries. For the sake of concision, I will refer mostly to the Western World, but a lot of this points are globally relevant.
In America, there are a wide variety of religions including Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Scientology, Atheism, Sikhism, Baha'I Faith, Jainism, Taoism, Unitarianism & Native American religions. And of those, followers consist of several different “brands” or “denominations” of belief which, if I listed them all would eat up a quarter of my word count, but not all of them pray the same way either, creating more contention. Any prayer to the god, goddess, saints, pantheon or prophet of any one religious denomination is going to be discriminatory against any other person that does not follow that religion in that particular way. A lot of people that imagine “school prayer” always imagine Christian prayer, since that’s how the “Religious Right” in America often defines it, but school prayer must also include the possibility for a Muslim prayer to Allah, for prostration to Shiva or the Buddha, for a Wiccan chant to the Three-headed God and the Goddess.
If it doesn’t include that possibility, then it is even more divisive, since it then creates issues related to the idea of a state-sanctioned religion (which is its own kettle of fish and not the topic of this debate). Prayer is, by definition, an attempted act of religious communion or worship, so it is a religious act, which would discriminate against any religion or irreligion present in that community. This kind of discrimination is divisive, and because school is a child’s first true example of community and coming together, by creating division in school we hinder the progress of children learning to become citizens in a multicultural society.
My second point is that prayer and other forms of faithful ideology, are not educational and so do not belong in a school environment. It is a school’s purpose to educate children with accurate knowledge and beneficial skills that will aid them in living a productive life. Prayer is neither “accurate knowledge” nor a “beneficial skill”, it is in fact a form of religious ritual, and should not be provided by any school.
To begin with, prayer is often committed with the implication that it will cause the listening deity or religious figure to aid the praying subject in their goals. However, as a study by the Harvard Medical School shows, intercessory prayer is at best ineffective and at worst may cause the target of a prayer to fare worse on average, which may be due to an expectation of miracles over medicine. There is no proof that any kind of prayer changes the nature of the world around us. And whilst there has been research that shows meditative prayer can have a beneficial effect on mental health, that pales in comparison to clinically developed meditation developed by psychologists and medical doctors, such as Clinically Standardized Meditation or Secular Transcendental Meditation.
A study of prayer in Catholic and Protestant Schools found that prayer had the capacity to significantly improve mental health in some, and to significantly diminish the mental health in others. However, a study of the effect of a secular Transcendental Meditation program found that it improved attendance, reduced dropout rates and improved the graduation rates between 15 and 25%.
I am not advocating for meditation in schools, but the purpose of showing the two studies is to illustrate that there is nothing prayer and religion can offer that cannot be provided by non-religious means, and in fact since some prayer has been shown to be harmful, it is better to avoid religious ritual, and stick to verifiable information and practices. School should not roll the dice by offering prayer to “perhaps” do good, when there are more updated methods of achieving good mental health and achievement that don’t rely on discriminatory and divisive religions.
For now, that’s all I wish to start this with. So, I want to conclude this by stating the case for my Burden of Proof. Because I am not just advocating that school prayer is “bad”, I am not saying that I don’t like it, but that it should be prohibited. And my case for this is that the purpose of schools is to teach education and provide community for impressionable, young students. The two points I have raised today, I hope, show that the introduction of school prayer – or the continuation of school prayer in certain schools – serves to divide community and also hinders the education of students. Because schools are compulsory in most countries, and in many others provide their students with an incomparable benefit, the vast majority of all peoplewill go to school. And if we allow for these students to go to schools where their education is hindered by mental health and religious indoctrination, or where they are excluded and discriminated against because of their religion or lack thereof, we hinder our own society through the people that will, in the future, comprise it.
So, I do not merely dislike school prayer, and this is not any attempt at religious vilification, rather I firmly affirm that school prayer should be prohibited, for the sake of community and a better educated society. Thank you for reading this, thank to Am93 for agreeing to this debate and I look forward to the opening argument from the negative side.
: Francis, Leslie; Robbins, Mandy; Lewis, Christopher Alan; Barnes, L. Philip (2008). "Prayer and psychological health: A study among sixth-form pupils attending Catholic and Protestant schools in Northern Ireland". Mental Health, Religion & Culture (abstract found here: http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/2894/)
 Colbert, R. D. (2013). “Effect of the transcendental meditation program on graduation, college acceptance and dropout rates for students attending an urban public high school”. Education Vol. 133, No. 4 (Author’s Note: you can read an article about it here, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-06/muom-tmp060613.php)
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