For The Love Of All That’s Holy, Quit Talking About Prayer


In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I’ve seen tons of commentary on Facebook and Twitter about prayer in schools. There is a vocal group of people who proclaim that this event happened because we’ve taken prayer out of schools. I’ve bitten my tongue for a couple of days about this, but I just can’t anymore.


No one has taken prayer out of schools. There is prayer in schools all day, every day. Many schools begin the day with a moment of silence, when everyone can pray as they like. Students pray before tests all the time, in whatever manner suits them, and to whatever higher power they believe in. They can talk about their religious beliefs, out loud, and that’s OK.

What’s not OK is state-sanctioned forcing of a certain type of prayer on all students. Our government has not said you can’t pray in school. What is has said, however, is that you cannot force kids to pray, and that you cannot force them to pray to a God they do not believe in. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I look at many of the Christians I know who are crying for a return of praying to “their” God in schools, and I think about what would happen to them if, for example, they had to move to a Muslim country for work. If they enrolled their kids in school, then found out their kids were forced to kneel and pray to Allah, they would flat-out lose their minds. If that scenario is not OK, then neither is forcing a diverse population of public school students in America to pray to a Christian God.

Besides that, what exactly are we expecting prayer in schools to do? Form some magical force field, or a protective bubble, around the buildings? That’s not how prayer works. Just thinking good thoughts, or asking for the right stuff, or remembering to say “thank you” does not protect anyone from the realities of the world. There are bad people at Christian schools, and bad things happen there. There are good people at secular state schools, and good things happen there. Simply praying or being a “good Christian” doesn’t give you a lock on an easy, trouble-free life here on earth.

If you want to make an argument that tragedies like Newtown happen because society has turned its back on God, faith and family, then go right ahead. You can make some good points for that. If you want to argue that our country glorifies violence, sex, and a lot of other bad stuff, instead of glorifying Christian values, then have at it.

And do you want to help prevent tragedies like this, starting right now? Then stop talking about prayer, and start spreading love. Stop judging, and start listening.

But don’t you dare say that 20 sweet children and six good school employees lost their lives because we don’t have prayer in schools. Because to do so is simplistic, immature, and downright hurtful.


  1. says

    I haven’t seen this rhetoric in my circles – it is interesting to me that people would even think that. The superiority thinking drives me nuts. Discussion is always welcome when considering equality. It sounds as if those who are crying out for prayer to be back in schools are not considering freedom of religious choice.

  2. says

    Besides that, what exactly are we expecting prayer in schools to do? Form some magical force field, or a protective bubble, around the buildings? That’s not how prayer works.

    Actually, that is exactly how prayer works.
    Psalm 91

    • Amy says

      So are you saying that no one in that particular school has ever prayed? That the students, employees and parents were all atheists?

      • says

        I’m not saying that… but there is something significant to agreement in prayer. Even in a church, if we are all just casually tossing up prayers, the effect is minimal. But, when we are agreed, fervent, praying in unity, the effects are stunning. Amazing.

        Additionally, if there is resistance to prayer, and especially if it’s so rejected that it results in an official stance against it, it changes the impact considerably.

        This is why we see in scripture how important it is to gather people together in prayer… we can’t be casual or scattered.

        • Amy says

          I see. Funny, I was never taught there were specific rules for prayer, or that not praying correctly causes bad things to happen. Or that prayer had to be done in unison, in mass quantities. Matthew 18:20 comes to mind, in fact.

        • Zachary says

          Matthew 6:5-13 also comes to mind.

          “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

          If there is any effect from public, group prayer, it’s a psychological one. It certainly may feel spiritual and special, but it’s not going to protect you from danger.

        • Ann Knickerbocker says

          Really? Really? Mmmm…then how do your figure that my granddaughter died of cancer even AFTER numerous churches of different denominations prayed for her to live? C’mon John, face it. Nothing fails like prayer.

  3. says

    There’s actually a lot to know about prayer. For example, there are some prayers that aren’t heard. Some prayer is ineffective. Prayer is more effective if it’s fervent… and prayed by righteous people.

    Solemn assemblies are another type of prayer. Repentance, humility, etc.

    Matt 18:20 is a great verse, but it’s not sufficient to act as a comprehensive teaching on the totality of prayer.

    • says

      I would love to know how you’re in God’s inner circle and how you know for a fact that some prayers aren’t ever heard and how you know for a FACT that your version of prayer works better than someone else’s.

      Catholics have plenty of Masses… and they also have plenty of child molesters within their ranks. So it looks like that form of prayer was pretty ineffective for them. Or was it just another specific detail they missed that made it so ineffective, since you’re such an authority on EFFECTIVE prayer?


      Amy- right. Freaking. On. This country was founded by people ESCAPING religious persecution, not people trying to shove their religion down others’ throats (and blame those who don’t subscribe to their beliefs for tragedies when they occur).

      • says

        The Bible is the final authority… not me, not anybody. The problems come when mankind doesn’t live according to the wonderful, amazing principles in scripture… Catholic priests and anybody else included.

        We don’t want to shove religion down anybody at all… but, Christians believe in absolute truth… and it’s good truth! Not to be despised. God makes live amazing… not devoid of trouble, but full of wonder and life and freedom.

    • Amy says

      John, your comments are EXACTLY what I was talking about when I wrote “downright hurtful.” You don’t seem like a bad person, but you are certainly saying some very cruel things. I have readers and friends who have lost children in sudden, unexpected circumstances (I have been in a similar situation, myself). I pray (fervently and zealously) that they either don’t read what you’ve written, or that they can take it with a grain of salt and move on. You might consider moving on from here, yourself, instead of causing someone even greater pain than you may have already done.

      • says

        I’m going with the grain of salt.

        John the teaching of prayer and the accepting of prayer is an individual right. The way I do it, the way I choose to communicate with G-d is my choice and I’m proud to have that choice. I feel confident that I’m communicating with G-d and He is listening. He wouldn’t want me to do something I’m not comfortable doing.

        There is a power in prayer, but please don’t tell me there’s more power in the way you pray than the way I pray. It’s the prayer that counts.

  4. says

    And, I should add… prayer isn’t as much about missing a detail… it’s about being zealously in love with Jesus… enjoying him… hearing his heart… responding to his wisdom, etc. There’s a deep, relational conversation that takes place… not just a boring recitation of prayer requests.

  5. says

    Here’s when I start screaming. On December 1, 1997, a freshman at my high school opened fire on a group of students. Three were killed. Five injured.

    Would you like to know what that group of students was doing?


  6. says

    Right on, Amy. I have seen it reported also that Sandy Hook elementary has a daily Pledge of Allegiance at 9:10, including that tragic day. It simply doesn’t make sense that people are blaming “taking God out of schools” for this terrible act.

  7. jimmy says

    People see tragedy as a place to get “their point” across and often the victims are overlooked and further victimized while people fight about the side subject that probably had nothing to do with the tragedy in the first place. I believe in prayer and pray often. I’m better suited to use my time to pray for the families and not push my “agenda.” There is a time for that. And I can think of a million other times that are better than this one.

  8. says

    Evil happens because there is evil in the world. I will not speculate on things that I don’t know for certain, but I wonder… oh, how I wonder… what a little compassion and acceptance from folks who only remotely knew the shooter, but now feel compelled to come out of the woodwork to talk about him in great detail to the MEDIA could have done to prevent this.

    Perhaps our focus should be on kindness instead of who’s praying to who and where.

  9. Craig McCoy says

    There is strong evidence from a psychological standpoint that we shouldn’t cover these events in the media at all, that the media in fact is an enabler.

  10. says

    While I “get” your post on an intellectual level and relate to the frustration, throwing praper and the baby out with the bathwater is an overreaction.

    You’re consufing religious compassion with fervent Christian lifestylers.

    I’m “one of those”. I live in Georgia, am surrounded by minivan ministers, and cul de sac Christians. When there’s an imemdiate tragedy or crisis, they rise up and shout “prayer”, “God Bless”, and fill up all of our Facebook timelines with words and sentiment as fluffy as their hairstyles and pets.
    But, it’s empty.

    I may be Christian, but I’m also a liberal, a realist, and scared as hell parent. I want to talk about making these senseless moments stop, as the President said last night.

    Nice post

  11. says

    Very well said!! Thank you. I am a teacher, and I have done lots of praying at school! However, I would never want my beliefs forced on others in the same way I wouldn’t want anyone to force me to do something against my beliefs. I am proud to be a citizen of a country founded to honor that freedom. I have seen the facebook posts you are referring to, and it drives me batty. No one has “taken” prayer out of school; we just don’t force anyone to pray. Students, and teachers, are free to pray all day if they want.

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