A friend of mine got into an argument on Facebook about Obama and how Christian he wasn't - the evidence for this was, apparently, that he wouldn't allow Christian prayer in schools and he had held a Ramadan break fast at the White House. Leaving aside the fact that, as my friend pointed out, Bush held plenty of Iftars and no right wing nuts complained about him not being Christian, I want to vent my spleen about the whole prayer in school thing.
Nothing new to anyone who reads atheist blogs I know.
Let me start by stating the obvious point that most Christians who whine about the lack of prayer in US state schools seem to miss - it isn't about YOUR religion, but ALL religions. If you allow one religion to have prayer in state schools then you have to allow all religions to have prayer in state schools, and then you have to allow some equivalent activity for the non-religious as well. The reason for this is quite simple, and one of the best things about the USA - the first amendment to the Constitution, otherwise known as the third article of the US Bill of Rights.
This states, for those religious and right wing types who like to waffle on and on about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights without reading either of them:
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.
I've highlighted the important part for those still too stupid to get it. What this means, and I'm no constitutional expert so this is my layman's understanding, is that the federal government can't enact laws that would favour any one religion over any other religion or prevent people from the exercise of their religion in any way - that means it can't enact a law that favours Roman Catholicism over Anglicanism, or Christianity over Islam, or Buddhism over Zoroastrianism, or theism over atheism. It also means the government can't enact a law that restricts your freedom to practise your religion. The first amendment guarantees that the government stays out of religious worship, period.
Now, this originally only applied to the central (federal) government, but the fourteenth amendment effectively applied this to all states as well:
1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Again, I've highlighted the important part. This meant that state laws regarding state governments and religious observance were overruled by the first amendment of the federal Constitution - all US citizens had the privilege of the first amendment and no state could overrule that.
Now, I'm not an expert on the US education system, but I do know that state schools receive federal funding. That is, funding from the US federal government, for those people still having trouble following this. Given this, and the first and fourteenth amendments, that means that if any state government, or the federal government, passes a law allowing for or making mandatory just one religion's prayers in a state school, they are (as I understand it) violating the first (and fourteenth in the case of a state) amendment of the US Constitution.
The only way to avoid violating the first amendment would be to allow all religions to have school endorsed prayers in state schools. And we know that isn't what the people whining about prayer in schools want, don't we? They want just their religion's prayers to be allowed in school. Do you really think the people who want God in our schools are also happy to allow Allah, Vishnu and Thor? Can my kids pray to Robbie Fowler, if that is the case?
But that isn't the only stupid here - prayer is not actually prohibited in school, and that too is guaranteed by the first amendment ('free exercise thereof'). Kids in school are allowed to pray privately whenever they want. The first amendment merely guarantees that state schools can't endorse one religion's prayer at the expense of other religions. No-one is stopping anyone from praying in school as long as that prayer is not officially endorsed by the school, state or federal government.
And it gets better for you religious types, there is a place where kids can go to school and have the school tell them they are saying the right prayers and even say them with your kids - they're called religious and private schools. If you want your kids to go to a school where prayer is endorsed by the school then send them to a religious school, not a state school, and stop fucking complaining.
So get this through your thick skull religious whiner - your kid IS allowed to pray in school, and that right is constitutionally protected. The school is not allowed to endorse that one religion's prayer though, or make it mandatory, official or otherwise sanctioned ahead of any others - and that is constitutionally mandated as well. The only possible constitutional way around that is to allow all religions to have prayer in state schools so that no one religion is 'respected', in the language of the first amendment. Which would leave no time for actual education, wouldn't it? Ah, I see where you idiots are going with this now...
And so; if allowing all religions is impractical, and allowing just one religion is a violation of the first amendment what is the sensible and legal solution? Allow no prayer in school other than private ones. Shock horror, Obama would be upholding the Constitution by not allowing Christian prayer in state schools. And him being President and all. Fancy taking that oath seriously...
It's all religions or no religions, but definitely not just your religion. If you like pre-Enlightenment Europe so much then piss off back there.
And don't get me started on the first amendment and "in God we trust" or the ridiculous quasi-fascist pledge of allegiance.