Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is There a Difference Between "Allowing" Prayer and "Promoting" Prayer in Public Schools?

Originally published at Free Tennessee:

NewsChannel5 has a story comparing the practice of Metro Schools allowing Muslim students to leave class in order to observe a strict schedule of Ramadan prayers with the controversy at Wilson County's Lakeview Elementary over Christian prayer at the flag pole before school.

Reporter Phil Williams left a couple of important details out of his piece.  One is that, as I understand it, the ACLU suit alleges that Lakeview Elementary is actively promoting Christian prayer at the flag pole rather than simply allowing it.  If Metro Schools promoted Ramadan prayers rather than simply recognizing that Muslim students are required by their faith to adhere to a strict schedule, then Metro Schools would be favoring one religion over another as Wilson County seems to be doing.  Likewise, if Lakeview Elementary simply allowed Christian students to meet to pray on school grounds, then they would not be so favoring one religion.

The second point that Williams ignores is that the Muslim schedule of Ramadan prayers is uniquely regimental in its practice.  As important as prayer is to some evangelicals, there is nothing in standard conservative Christian discipline that remotely compares to the Muslim regiment.  There are such strictures in Christian monasticism, but I don't know any Middle Tennessee evangelicals who adhere to or advocate a monastic schedule of prayers during the day.  And I doubt the existence of monastic evangelicals in Wilson County, of all places.

Prayer at the flag pole is nothing like a compulsory schedule of prayers at the center of Christian teaching; it is more of a marketed lifestyle-choice based on deeper moral ideas.  But if there are evangelicals who can show that their prayer discipline is based in a tradition of canonical hours and a habit in the monastic sense, then Wilson County Schools can allow such prayer (just as they can allow any form of prayer) without promoting it.  These are critical details that Phil Williams or his editors should have included to better inform his rather flat reading of two different problems.

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