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The Removal of Prayer from Public Schools

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The removal of prayer from public schools is a very controversial and misunderstood debate. This paper will address the history of the debate, common myths and misunderstandings, and the current trends.

History of the Debate:

Public schools originated in 1647 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and soon spread across New England. They began with an elementary school for every fifty families and a Latin school for every one hundred families. Their mission was to “ensure that Puritan children learn to read the Bible and receive basic information about their Calvinist religion.”1 By 1840, conflict was at a climax in New York City. The public schools had taken on a “common school” education that included a nondenominational course of religious instruction. This meant “students would recite a few basic prayers and read passages from the Protestant, King James Bible without commentary or interpretation.”2 This did not please the some 200,000 Roman Catholics within the city who had serious objections to Protestant “non-sectarianism”2.


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Robinson, B. A. “Religion and Prayer in U. S. Public Schools.” 2000.

Scott, Darrell “On target.” Handguns, October 1999: 106.

United States Supreme Court. Abington School District v. Schempp. 374 U. S. 203. 1963.

United States Supreme Court. Engel v. Vitale. 370 U. S. 421. 1962.

“The U. S. Supreme Court on School Prayer.” Education Week, 14 December 1994.

Wright, Elliot. “Religion in American Education.” Phi Delta Kappan, September 1999: 17.

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