By Eleanor Goetz in the KidSpirit Power issue.
Three hundred forty-five years ago Roger Williams declared, “forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.”
Williams was a 17th-century English Protestant theologian and a proponent of religious freedom. He pioneered the separation of church and state, a crucial social innovation in 1640 that now poses a unique challenge to modern parochial schools. Schooling is mandatory for every child in the nation, but prayer is not. Yet parochial schools must somehow coerce students into praying. This would be an achievable goal if every student agreed that prayer is critical and there was a school-wide consensus on how to pray, but that often isn’t the case. Schools are faced with the impossible task of imparting the value of praying, specifically the importance of daily prayer. In this situation schools often fall into a survival mode, using their administrative power to force students and teachers to show up in a room and recite words without facing the question of meaning head on. This allows students to passively disengage and choose powerlessness regarding the shortcomings of their prayer services without getting involved or feeling personally responsible to make a change.