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- Christians Take Over Interfaith Army Chapel in Combat Zone
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- 9/11: 'Never Forget' Must Include All Victims
- Atheists Advocate Separation of Church and State at DNC
- Congressman Pete Stark to Speak at 2013 National Convention
- American Atheists Announces 50th Anniversary Logo Design Contest
- American Atheists Announces Harassment Policy for Conventions and Conferences
- American Atheists Jubilant Over Latest Religion Report
- American Atheists Removes Religious Billboards from Charlotte
- Former Pastor Now American Atheists Public Relations Director
- Former Pastor Teresa MacBain New Public Relations Director
- ITALIAN JUDGE LUIGI TOSTI ACQUITTED!
- American Atheists to Protest Bradford County, FL Decalogue on May 19
Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
School Prayer FAQs
School Prayer FAQs
What's Wrong with Prayer in Class?
Q: What's wrong with having a short prayer in school classrooms? Surveys indicate that the majority of people favor this practice...
A: American Atheists opposes school prayer for a number of reasons. To begin, it is unconstitutional and a clear violation of our First Amendment. Remember, that amendment contains the \Establishment Clause\ which prohibits the government from\establishing\ religion. Simply put, secular institutions like the public schools should NOT be a forum for religious ritual or indoctrination.
And do a majority of people \support\ school prayer? Often, those results depend on exactly how the question happens to be asked. Surveys suggest that most people reject the notion of mandatory prayer. But even if the overwhelming majority thought that prayer was, somehow, a \good idea\, that does not make the practice ethically just or constitutional.
American Atheists also points out, in opposing school prayer, that prayer is not efficacious. School prayer is obviously a form of religious indoctrination; it teaches children that there are invisible, supernatural entities which can be implored and appeased through mumbling prayers or reading from holy books.
Do Atheists Oppose Prayer Because it Doesn't Work?
Q: So, Atheists oppose prayer in schools -- and anywhere else -- because it simply doesn't \work\?
A: Think about it. Does it make sense to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful and all benevolent \god\ (or \gods) who have to be propitiated and reminded that their followers need help and believe in them? And does \god\ pay more attention to our existential situation in life when we pray?
Should Religious Kids Be Able to Pray?
Q: But most people believe in god and prayer. Should religious kids be able to pray?
A: Try taking our \YELLOW PAGES TEST\ over in the PUBLIC SQUARE section of this website. There are abundant opportunities for religious individuals, including students, to exercise their freedom of religion, and pray to the deity or deities of their choice. But remember, the public schools exist as secular, educational institutions, not as places for religious proselytizing and indoctrination.
What About Voluntary Prayer?
Q: But what about voluntary prayer? What's wrong with that?
A: Just how \voluntary\ is it? When school authorities, including teachers organize prayer or bible recitation as part of the activities of the school day, there is clearly an element of coercion involved for students who might not wish to pray -- for whatever reason. The public schools are for everyone. Having a prayer divides children into the group that prays, and the often smaller group consisting of those who do not. Experience has shown that kids who do not participate are often victims of ostracism, threats and other exclusionary practices. Is this right?
Could We Have a Non-Offensive Prayer?
Q: We could have a prayer that doesn't offend anyone...
A: Really? What sort of a \prayer\ would that be? Many religious groups are skeptical about organized school prayer because they fear that doctrines and prayers of other religions may be used. Catholics and Protestants have argued for decades over the issue of whose bible should be used.
How About Changing Prayers Throughout the Year?
Q: Well, how about having different prayers used throughout the school year?
A: That idea ignores the fact that any and all prayer in public schools is unconstitutional, whether one form of religious ritual is used, or a virtual belief-smorgasbord is presented. And do you really think that different religious sects will tolerate the use of each other's prayers? Look at how pluralistic American culture has become; there are hundreds, even thousands of diverse religious beliefs. Many would clamor for \equal time\ in this prayer lottery. How would Catholics react to having, say, Jewish Orthodox prayers read? What happens if a Scientologist, or Seventh-Day Adventist, or Satanist demands that prayers from those sects be used? Communities, schools, and ultimately students would become divided against each other in a religious free-for-all.
It is best to have prayer kept as a private ritual, not a public ceremony!
What About Those Who DO Want to Pray?
Q: But don't we need a Religious Equality Amendment or other legislation to protect the rights of the students who DO wish to pray?
A: That is not the purpose of proposed legislation such as the Religious Equality Amendment. Students can pray, even in schools if they choose to do so. They can pray during lunch-breaks, walking or being transported to and from the school, and of course, during their free time. School prayer advocates know this; but the real purpose of the prayer-in-school movement is to either coerce everyone into joining in prayer and religious ritual, or having official government sanction of religion. That is clearly wrong, a violation of the separation of government and religion.
What About Student Initiated Prayer?
Q: But I've heard about student-initiated prayer, where the students want to pray. It has nothing to do with the teachers or administrators...
A: Before getting excited about \student initiated\ prayer, ask yourself: \which students\ are doing the initiating? Student populations often reflect the diversity of the culture. Some students may wish to pray in class or at official school ceremonies like graduation exercises or sporting events, but are they being fair to other students who may not wish to pray? Lately, there have been court cases involving this very question. It is clear that even in areas such as Utah where a school may have a high percentage of students from the same religious background, not all students feel comfortable with this bogus \student led\ religious ritual.
What About Our Religious Society?
Q: Our society, though, is one where most people are religious, and believers in Christianity.
A: Our society is, in fact, one which has over 25,000,000 individuals who consider themselves to be Atheists or non-religious in some way. Atheists comprise between 8-12% of the population. In addition to Atheists, there are millions of other Americans who are pejoratively referred to as \un-churched Americans\, who rarely if ever see the need to attend regular church rituals. Religion plays only a minor role in their lives, if at all.
And consider the believers. They are fragmented into thousands of sects, denominations and different persuasions. They cannot agree on which holy book to use, which god to worship or which prayer to use. Should this problem be inflicted on the public school system? What good can possibly come from such a practice?
What About a \Moment of Silence\?
Q: Well, what about a \Moment of Silence\ instead? That way, we don't have to worry about specific prayers?
A: What for? Why do we need a \moment of silence\? School prayer boosters have sometimes proposed this as a way of establishing a legal precedent which, they hope, will eventually lead toward explicit and vocal school prayer. Over a decade ago, the Supreme Court struck down this type of proposal; legislation of this type often calls for the \moment of silence\ to be used for \meditation or prayer.\ Besides, consider the declining number of hours that students are in school each year. Every \moment\ should be used for useful and educational instruction, not meditating!
Has Our Nation Declined Without Prayer?
Q: Advocates of school prayer insist that since 1963 when Madalyn Murray booted god out of the schools, our nation has declined. Teens are getting pregnant, AIDS is spreading, kids are carrying guns to class. We've got to do SOMETHING, don't we?
A: We CAN do something about problems in schools, but mandatory or \student led\ prayer which violates the rights of students is not the answer. Prayer is being promoted as a \feel good\ quickie-fix to complex problems. Madalyn Murray did indeed help to end prayer recitation in schools; but that did not cause the problems which exist today. Society has changed, and schools must change as well. The answer to problems might well involve doing other things -- emphasize science and math to prepare kids for the next century, smaller class sizes, perhaps even better pay for over-worked teachers. Often, these programs cost money and take time. They are not the \instant solution\ which the prayer-in-school boosters offer, but they are more substantive.
We might also point out to you that if lack of religiosity is somehow linked to immoral and anti-social behavior, you should look at the jail and prison population. Less than one percent of prison inmates consider themselves Atheists. Meanwhile, all kinds of fundamentalist religious cults are thriving \behind bars.\ There are millions of decent, caring and concerned people in this society who are Atheists. The idea that, somehow, prayer in schools (or anywhere else) is necessary in molding a decent person is actually an insult to us!
Haven't We Abandoned God?
Q: But the country is falling apart! The crime rate is skyrocketing, we've got polluted air and everything is just getting worse! Haven 't we abandoned god?
A: Now there's something we could debate all day. But do a little historical research, and you will find that in many respects we are living better, longer and more productive lives than our predecessors did just 50 or 75 years ago. Think about the improvements to our lives which science and technology has brought us. That is one reason why Atheists are often pro-technology! We see the liberatory potential of science and technology to make life better in the here and now, rather than waiting to die so we can exist as spirits in some heavenly amusement park.
There are problems. Sometimes they are exaggerated by people who have a political or religious axe to grind. For instance, violent crime in the country has actually remained fairly steady over the years, at least as long as records have been maintained. The country is changing, and so is the make-up of our economy, our population, and our social institutions. These changes are not always bad, especially if they facilitate human freedom and civil liberties.
The point is this: we don't want to be fooled into believing that we have some \state of emergency\ that requires us to ignore our First Amendment and allow some theocracy to develop. Remember Iran? There's \one nation under god\ at work for you!
Is Not Having Prayer in Schools Radical?
Q: You might be right. But not having prayer in schools is a really radical idea, isn't it?
A: You might say that it is as American as apple pie! As advocates for the civil liberties of Atheists and other non-believers, we're in some pretty auspicious company. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, spoke of the need for a \wall of separation\ between the state and the churches. In the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, he insisted that no American \shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever...\ Numerous Supreme Court cases have upheld that notion, often against the fierce opposition of religious interests. While religious events and personalities are one part of our nation's history, remember that one thing which makes America unique is the SEPARATION OF STATE AND CHURCH. It is no accident that this prohibition against the \establishment\ of religion is placed in the First Amendment, along with our right to freedom of speech.
What Can I Do to Help?
Q: As an intelligent and open-minded person, I have to say \Wow!\ I'm convinced! What can I do to help?
A: Well, somehow I knew you would come around (chuckle). If you are indeed intelligent and open-minded, you may well be an Atheist, or at least considering Atheism as your intellectual conviction and personal lifestyle. Consider becoming a supporter of American Atheists! You can also help to educate other people about this important issue. Unfortunately, most folks don't have all the background on this topic. Do you have some religious friends?
Well, have some fun. Remember that many religious people are that way as the result of circumstances; they often are born into their \faith\ system. If you have Christian pals who are talking about the school prayer issue, though, have them read their own bible. (See below...)
Did Jesus Really Take a Stand Against School Prayer?
Matthew 6:5-6 reports the mythical \Jesus\ taking a stand against school prayer twenty centuries ago.
You gotta' be kidding!
No, no! It's right there, and I quote:
...Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....But thou, when thou prayest, enter into the closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...
I'll remember that! What else can I do?
AMERICAN ATHEISTS has a full selection of background materials on this important issue, including books which discuss the famous Supreme Court case, Murray v. Curlett. We also offer publications which keep you abreast of the latest news on the state-church separation battlefront. Check this web site, too, for up-dates.
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American Atheists is here to help. If your legal rights have been challenged, or if you see someone breaking the law and not being stopped, Please read our Legal Philosophy (below) and send Edwin Kagin an email at [email protected]
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\Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.\
-- First Amendment, The Constitution of the United States
An Educational Organization
American Atheists is an educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church. We accept and support the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the first Amendment to the Constitution was designed to forge a \wall of separation\ between government and religious movements. American atheists likewise affirms Jefferson's declaration that no one \shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever...\
Jefferson was the author of the Virginia Statutes of Religious Freedom, wherein he presented many of his ideas concerning liberty and individual conscience and freedom from coercive, religious institutions. He was also an intellectual skeptic and deist, who embraced not the Judeo-Christian deity, but the notion of \Nature and nature's god.\ He condemned the practice of \established religions\ -- state supported churches similar to those which had existed in colonial America and throughout most of Europe, saying that to \compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of (religious) opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.\
It was in his 1802 letter to \the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut\ that he put forth some of his strongest language concerning the relationship of government and religious faith:
\I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, ' thus building a wall of separation between church and state.\
Preserving the \Wall of Separation\
American Atheists has labored for over three decades to preserve this \wall of separation,\ and in doing so, to protect the civil rights of atheists and non-believers. While we acknowledge the importance of the First Amendment in protecting the various religious groups of this nation -- \religious liberty\ -- we also note that the majority of Americans are \un-churched.\ Tens of millions of citizens are not regular attendees at churches, mosques, or temples, and religious faith plays a minimal role in their lives.
And there are over 25,000,000 Americans who describe themselves as atheists, religious skeptics, non-believers or with similar terms. We have no use for religious creeds; we doubt the efficacy of prayer and religious ritual; and we object to supporting through tax money any religious establishment, event, or ritual.
We are aware that in legal issues concerning \religious liberty,\ there are those affected to have no religious beliefs whatsoever. American Atheists labors on behalf of the civil rights of these non-believers who defend the right to freedom from religion.
Rick Wingrove, Capitol Hill Director. [email protected]
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Mobilizing America's Nonbelievers for Political Activism
CONTACT YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES
Here are a few convenient sites to help you identify and contact your United States Representative and Senators:
- A free service from Capitol Advantage.
- C-Span Legislative Action Center
- Capitol Advantage service branded for C-Span.
- Write Your Representative.
- If you prefer to go directly to the source, the United States House of Representatives official web site.
- US Senate Web Site.
- Includes email addresses and websites.
- State and Local Government on the Net.
- Links to state and local government web sites.
- Portal and Search Engine to US Federal, State, and Local Government.
Legislators and government officials receive a lot of opinions. It is important to communicate your opinion effectively.
9 2012-02-28 20:16:18
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Getting the Atheist