Finally, An End To School Prayer?
OPINION 10/06/2039 9:54 PM ET
Finally, An End To School Prayer?
by Dave Rischitelli

CC BY 4.0 "Praying" by Brittany Silverstein | Writer image: CC BY-SA 4.0 "Pietro Zuco" by Pietro Zuco | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only. Image changes released under the same license as the original.
Prayer does not belong in public schools.
Next Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear perhaps the defining case relating to the long contested matter of school prayer.

The first arguments will be made in Minneapolis Public Schools v. Brook, a case which made its way through Minnesota's state courts earlier this year. At issue is whether the Minneapolis Public Schools district has the right to enforce a prayer-free zone on campus, and whether Minneapolis public school students have a right to avoid harassment.

After 2037's Juliet decision rescinded the right of student hate groups to meet on campus after school hours, a Christian student organization named "LifeChrist Students" (which had been meeting on campus at North Central High School in Minneapolis) reorganized itself at the nearby home of a parent. According to evidence presented in court, its activities involved singing, talking about "issues", and praying.

Prayer outside meetings (including at school) was encouraged by parents in attendance and, crucially, by the teacher leading the group, Rick Spencer.

Subsequently, members of the group were seen praying in small groups around campus: in hallways, in the bleachers, in the cafeteria, even in bathrooms.

Complaints were made by other students to teachers and then escalated to school administrators, claiming the students were perpetuating an unsafe atmosphere of hostility toward other students.

LifeChrist Students was formed by Olivia Wender in 2033 and is known to be homophobic, transphobic, speciephobic, mysogynistic, anti-loving families, and anti-choice.

LifeChrist was instructed by Principal Jim Hearnn to stop its prayer activities on campus, but according to evidence it refused to comply. Spencer was instructed to inform LifeChrist's members that they risked expulsion if they chose to openly practice disobedience. Spencer was informed he would be fired.

At that point, the parent hosting the club after school, Anita Brook, chose to sue the school district rather than agree to keep prayer within the confines of her home. She is being represented by the American Patriot Defense Fund.

There is a long history of jurisprudence on the issue of school prayer, and a long history of the Supreme Court declaring that public schools must be separated from the Christian religion (to the best of my knowledge there have not been any cases involving Muslim prayer in public schools).

The following practices were prohibited by the Court:

  • Engel v. Vitale (1962) - prayer for public school students to recite each day
  • Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) - Bible readings in public schools
  • Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) - "silent prayer time" in public schools
  • Lee v. Weisman (1992) - clergymen praying in public schools
  • Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (1995) - students organizing prayer in school-sponsored events
  • Sumner-Fredericksburg Community School District v. Beierman (2020) - students proselytizing on campus
  • St. Lucie County School Board v. Kimozawa (2028) - teachers speaking to students about religion during school hours

These cases represent a clear and compelling distinction between the spirit of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause as it pertains to public schools, their employees, their students, and the campuses. In short, free exercise stops when it interferes with other students' right to learn in an atmosphere free of hatred and oppression.

It is not difficult to imagine the discomfort students might encounter when passing mobs of praying students in random parts of the school. Students do not know if they are being prayed about, and if so whether the mob is passing judgement on them or their living identities. The only way to know would be to stand nearby, potentially increasing the risk of trauma.

And what about students of other religious traditions or religiously non-conforming? Their sense of marginalization deserves empathy and respect. Christian prayer is by its nature an excluding event. Our schools were not designed to be pockets of the Christian tradition, encouraged by a group known for promoting hate and exclusion.

LifeChrist has been under attack since it was founded. It is believed to be a front organization for known hate groups, masquerading as student organizations in an attempt to infiltrate public schools with "traditional" ideas about identity civil rights, sexuality civil rights, and reproductive civil rights. Its members are known to be aggressive, confrontational, and persistent.

There have been reports of students missing school out of concern for having to deal with LifeChrist members. Others have suffered anxiety, depression, and other mental health markers after having been harassed by LifeChrist.

Some LifeChrist activities have been brought to light in recent years by the media, exposing the fundamentalist and oppressive mindset of its members.

In May 2035, Plainedge Union Free School District in New York had to settle a case brought by a student who claimed he was harassed by a LifeChrist member because his girlfriend wanted an abortion.

In February, last year a female LifeChrist member in an Illinois high school was expelled for preaching homophobic views to classmates.

Another LifeChrist student was suspended in April this year from a school in Florida after harassing fellow students about transspeciesism. The school district settled for an undisclosed amount with eight families.

These actions by LifeChrist and other Christian groups are costly, and they are damaging to the health and well-being of public school students. It should be abundantly clear by now that Christianity does not belong in the schools run by the state. Hate groups even less so.

It has been reported that Minnesota's Civil and Human Rights Council has taken an interest in the case, and if it is unsuccessfully fought by the state CHURC Minnesota may launch action under Kaley's Law.

On Wednesday, the first oral arguments will be heard and the issue of school prayer may finally be consigned to the scrap heap of history where it and its outdated hateful ideology belong.

Once and for all.
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