Public Prayer

I’m in my 30’s, but not too young to distinctly remember Prayer in school. We’d start each morning with the Pledge of Allegiance, and in the middle of the day, before marching single-file to the cafeteria, we’d say a quick prayer as we washed our hands with dampened paper towels handed out by whichever student was assigned to towel duty that day.

I also distinctly remember that one of the students, a Jehovah’s Witness, didn’t participate in either event. She sat silently and patiently, and waited while we did this routine every day. No one made fun of her. She once told me that she never felt bad about not taking part because that was simply her beliefs being exercised. Only on the second or third day of school did anyone say anything about her lack of participation, and at that point, one of our teachers politely explained that her beliefs didn’t allow her to participate. That was good enough for us: we never said another thing about it.

At some point, it was decided for Christians that they were wrong for doing what they’d grown up doing all these years. Suddenly, the rights of those who didn’t want to participate took priority over the rights of those who did. This change occurred, as it has been explained to me, because the non-religious and those of different religions have their rights violated to be subjected to the practice of a different religion. This strikes me as strange.

The Bible tells us that it’s better to retreat to a closet and pray in private than to pray in a public form just to be seen praying in public. In other words, if your prayer isn’t sincere, you’re being a hypocrite and God doesn’t hear your prayer. If you read between the lines here, it means that prayer is only a valid religious tool when it is done in a sincere manner by the individual. So those kids who were more focused on scoping out the best spot on the playground and not concentrating on the words weren’t really praying because they weren’t focusing their attention on God. The non-religious in the room who didn’t believe anyway weren’t praying, either. Those of a different religion likewise can’t have been participating in the prayer if the words weren’t believed.

So if this is true, where does this put us? Well, it can be argued that being present in a room in which a prayer is occuring doesn’t automatically mean that you’re praying or being even remotely religious. Likewise, attending a funeral or wedding that occurs inside a church of a different faith doesn’t suddenly make you a convert.

I once attended a funeral of a Jewish woman. At the door, ushers handed out yarmulkes, those black skullcaps worn in Synagouge. Embarassingly unfamiliar with Jewish custom, I whispered that I belonged to a different faith and asked if it was all right to wear the cap. Why did I bother to ask? Because I didn’t want to offend people of that religion that was different from mine. The usher explained that it was simply a show of respect to the family’s church. Guess what? I wore it without hesitation.

When I left the funeral, I was no more Jewish than I had been when I arrived. I wore the yarmulke out of respect to the other religion. I didn’t threaten to sue anyone because they were infringing on my right to practice a non-Jewish religion. The thought never even occurred to me!

Some athiests tend to be fairly vocal about having to be subjected to someone else’s religious practices. But if being present while others pray doesn’t make the athiest religous, why is this a problem?

If prayer has been removed from the classroom and from school-supported events in an effort to be fair to non-Christians, who aren’t being influenced by the prayer anyway, what’s next? Shall we tear down churches so that non-Christians don’t have to be subjected to that form of public reminder? Where does it stop?

I find it ironic that we seem to want to consider athiests a religious group when it comes to defining what’s fair and what isn’t. Athiests don’t believe in God, and think religion is a waste of time. How can non-religion be a religion? And how can an athiest truly be offended when others choose to practice their own faith? If athiests “know” that there is no God, watching others pray should be a source of amusement, not a source of offense.

It’s those who refuse to acknowledge there is a God who are “winning” here because they’re the only ones who aren’t having to make an adjustment here. Those of us who were taught from our earliest years that prayer, respect and reverence were good things are now suddenly being told that everything we learned all those years should be forgotten. Anyone else see a problem with this?

Is a “moment of silence” really the answer? It gives those of us who don’t mind praying the opportunity to do so. But if prayer is only possible when someone willingly participates, then it seems to me that we are more likely forcing the non-religious among us to participate in something psuedo-religious, since everyone has to be silent.

Obviously, it comes down to a matter of how you personally define such things. But where do we draw the line between appeasing non-Christians who apparently don’t want to be reminded that Christianity even exists, and appeasing Christians who simply want to be able to practice their religion the way they’ve been brought up to do so?

Who wins? Who loses? And where does the compromise have to go to serve everyone?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.