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Wise words on prayer in school

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the 16,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., will deliver the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Tuesday morning.

What does this have to do with education? Hamilton is the author of a spot-on essay on the subject of prayer in school. Every member of the Indiana General Assembly should read it, particulary Sen. Dennis Kruse, who once again as introduced a school prayer bill, SB 23. The legislation is assigned to the Senate's Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, which is a good indication it won't be approved, but the tiresome debate needs to be put to rest once and for all.

"One reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been a call to 'put God back in the schools,' " Hamilton writes at his blog, AdamHamilton.org. "I even heard one person suggest that the violence that happened in the school was because we took God out of public schools. As a pastor I have a deep desire to lead people to God and encourage people to pray, read the Bible, and carry their faith into every part of their lives. But I've got a few questions about putting God back in the schools.'

"In America our public schools are intended to be religiously neutral. Our teachers and schools are neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion. I believe this is a very good thing. When my kids were growing up I wanted their teachers to teach them science, reading, math, and history. I also wanted them to care about my kids. But I did not want my children's public school teachers teaching them religion. That was my job as a parent, and the job of our church, Sunday school, and youth group."

Hamilton alludes to one of the ironies of the argument for "putting God back in the schools." The same voices calling for parents to take responsibility in their children's education and to make informed choices among traditional public schools, charter schools and voucher schools somehow have no problem suggesting that schools, not parents, bear the responsibility to provide spiritual guidance. Nor do they seem to believe parents are responsible enough to make the right decisions regarding faith.

Hamilton, as a minister, is more likely to appeal to the reason of Kruse and others who won't give up on this subject. Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, makes the other convincing argument – it is a dereliction of duty for a sworn member of the General Assembly to draft and submit a bill that is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, Indiana lawmakers seem to have no reservations doing so, as the ACLU's numerous recent victories in the courts suggest.

On the wise counsel of Hamilton and Henegar, Indiana lawmakers should end their continual campaign to "put God back in public schools."

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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