- Topics & Settings
- Browse Sites
Concluding Thoughts on Prayer in Faribault High School
There are no easy answers for the controversies facing Faribault High School regarding religion in school and prayer in particular. On the one hand, allowing Muslim students to pray during homeroom and in a designated “room” results in the “establishment” of Islam in the school, prioritizing Islam over other religions and nonbelievers. Yet preventing Muslim students from prayer is a violation of their right to the free exercise of their religion. And of course, the issue extends beyond Muslim students to also include Christian students who also wish to pray, and any student of any religious tradition who wants a place to practice their religious tradition while in school.
Historically, the ability to perform a religious practice often comes into issues, as it impacts not just the individual but others as well. As the Supreme Court wrote in Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), “[The Religious Clauses of the First Amendment] embraces two concepts – freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be.” 1 Trying to find the balance between the paradoxes of the establishment clause and the free exercise clause will not be solved soon.
Faribault High School is not the only school facing these problems. As some students in Faribault told us, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Muslim students are allowed to leave school on Fridays to attend the main weekly prayer. And the issues of prayer in school extend beyond Minnesota and involve not only Muslim students. In late May and early June 2013, Louisiana’s House and Senate both unanimously passed a bill that allows students to ask school administrators for the “use of a classroom, assembly hall or available space for prayer or reflection.”2 While this right already exists, state representatives believe that the bill will help to alleviate confusion about the place of prayer in public schools. Just across the state line in Mississippi, the governor recently passed a law that “requires public schools to develop policies that will allow students to pray over school intercoms, at assemblies and at sporting events,” while providing disclaimers that such speech was student-led.3 Issues of prayer in schools are clearly far from over.
While it continues to be debated on the national level, or Faribault High School in the short term, it is important to raise general student knowledge of what religious activities are and are not allowed in public schools. Just because religion and the state are separate does not mean religion cannot be discussed in school, and while the conversation may sometimes be difficult, it is often necessary. Many non-Muslim students expressed confusion over the school’s policy involving prayer. In particular, while non-Muslims students knew that there was a room set aside for the Muslim students to pray in, few knew where it was – even though they pass it every day – or knew that it was only an unused exit. Students were also unclear as to when Muslims students were allowed to leave the classrooms to pray – they can leave to pray only during homeroom. Helping to answer these questions will possibly help in defraying some of the tension over the prayer policy, while also making it clear that non-Muslim students may also pray in the school. Finally, fostering a dialogue on the nature of prayer itself can help break down the barriers between students; for while the students were not aware of it, both Christian and Muslim students spoke of prayer as the way they talk directly to God. If the policy itself was less of a mystery, and if more students were aware what Muslim prayer involves, perhaps greater mutual understanding could grow. Yet as one student noted, "the biggest problem is getting people to listen."
If the [prayer] policy itself was less of a mystery, and if more students were aware what Muslim prayer involves, perhaps greater mutual understanding could grow. Yet as one student noted, "the biggest problem is getting people to listen."
For more information on the role religion plays, and is allowed legally to play, in public schools visit the Religion and First Amendment Law exhibit.
Cantwell v. Connecticut 310 U.S. 296 (1940) https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/310/296/#opinion. ↩
Mike Hasten, “Student-led prayer at school OK,” Sheveport Times, June 1, 2013, http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20130601/NEWS11/306010013/Student-led-prayer-school-OK. ↩
Kim Severson, “Mississippi Tells Public Schools to Develop Policies Allowing Prayers,” New York Times, March 15, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/16/us/mississippi-requires-public-schools-to-develop-policies-on-prayer.html. ↩