Praying Away the School Day

sheep with glasses

It hasn’t been easy for some kids in schools in Red States these days. In Utah, school workers recently took away lunches from 40 children whose parents allegedly had unpaid balances — and threw the food in the trash. “You don’t have any money in your account,” one fifth-grader reported she was told by a school official, “so you can’t get lunch.”

Well, we guess that’s one way to counter the recent news that American kids find school too boring. Take away their lunches! That oughta amp up the excitement level.

But in case you’re worried that officials in Red States care more about humiliating children instead of educating them, take heart: In good ol’ Alabama, Republican State Rep. Steve Hurst has a big idea on how schools can teach both history and civics to Alabama schoolchildren — and it only takes 15 minutes a day!

Hurst’s big idea? Get the kids to pray. Really! After all, says Hurst, “If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t.” That’s where teaching history and civics come in: Hurst wants kids to say prayers that were read in Congress at important historical moments, like the prayer said in Congress the day war was declared in 1941. Or the prayer said the day after September 11, 2001.

If it’s good enough for government, Hurst is saying, then it’s good enough for schools. While we’re tempted to suggest that perhaps prayer belongs in neither, we feel compelled to point out that schoolkids are more vulnerable and impressionable than elected officials. Wait: scratch that. We just remembered Ted Cruz.

Hurst’s bill has been denounced by saner people who recognize this as a bald attempt to reinstate prayer in school. While that seems obvious, we are talking about Alabama here, where a battle for Hurst’s seat has left his Republican primary challenger — and even his Democrat opponent — treading cautiously. “It’s interesting,” said businessman and primary challenger Steve Dean, “but I don’t jump in to support a bill I haven’t read.” “I think prayer is important in anybody’s life,” said the Democratic candidate Stephanie Engle before mumbling something vague about giving kids a course in comparative religions and adding that “setting aside 15 minutes for a prepared prayer isn’t as constructive.”

It would be reassuring if any one of these candidates felt confident pointing out how obviously this law would violate the US Constitution and could use a word like, say, wrong or insane instead of calling the proposed bill something less than “constructive.”

Of course, all of this has got us thinking. It’s often pointed out that the kids we teach today are the adults who will take care of us later, as our doctors, pharmacists, elected officials… that we don’t just have a responsibility to teach our kids, but it’s also strongly in our self-interest.

So you know what else will be in our self-interest? Avoiding these kids when they’re grown up and coming after us offering to do our taxes, fill a prescription or do an emergency appendix transplant. After all, if Hurst gets his way, Alabama schoolkids will spend about 45 hours a year praying instead of, say, learning math, or science, or even learning sex ed. But, to avoid these kids decades later, we’ll have to know how to spot them. How will we do that? What do YOU think?

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