The Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction is forming a new committee to ensure students’ right to prayer and worship is protected in public schools.
Ryan Walters announced his intention to do an independent analysis after he received a letter from several spiritual leaders urging him to protect religious practices in public schools.
“We are requesting that you take every action possible to allow corporate prayer and expressions of faith in God back in our public school system,” read the letter, signed by six religious leaders. “Stripping these fundamental influences has only made education and our state weaker. Our families suffer, our communities become divided, and atheism runs rampant.”
Walters didn’t propose a policy but said he would create a committee to investigate the matter.
“What I would like to do is get a group together – faith leaders, community leaders – and let them analyze it and let them come to their own conclusions about what we need to do for our kids,” he said according to local media.
Although religious worship is protected by the First Amendment, public schools have become increasingly hostile to public displays of faith.
Just last year, the case of high school football coach praying at games made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided 6-3 that the First Amendment protects “an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal.”
A Texas school board was even targeted by an anti-religious watchdog for allowing members to say an opening prayer.
Other groups are hesitant to encourage religious practices in schools.
“Students have always had the right to pray voluntarily at the beginning of the day, before lunch or whenever they take a rest,” claimed Rob Boston, senior advisor for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“The public school system is never going to be a good vehicle for imparting spiritual beliefs because teachers aren’t trained to do that, and, frankly, I don’t think most of them have interest in that,” Boston concluded.
However, the state superintendent doesn’t share those secular views.
“Oklahoma schools should reflect Oklahoma family values,” Walters said.