It has come to my attention that the little public school my daughter attends has a “school prayer” which is recited at the weekly assembly.
It only fell onto my radar when a friend mentioned it, as usually I am too busy talking, yelling (or loudly hissing) at my boys to behave during assembly, or just avoiding the event altogether. Being a public school, it begs the question; does prayer or religion have any place in public schools?
Contrary to popular belief, Australia has no official state-endorsed religion, although the conservative right wing types like to cite us as being a Christian country for the purpose of justifying their anti-Islam stance. It strikes me as odd that this weekly prayer ritual has gone on for so long uncontested; after all, I would imagine that if a public school introduced a prayer thanking Allah before assembly, the loudest in the nation would be outraged. With no official state religion, a seemingly benign Christian prayer is just as misplaced as an Islamic one.
It appears the prayer has been continued out of tradition. Let’s face it; tradition is really the only reason for any religion to still exist in our modern society. My daughter’s last school was a private Anglican school, and although I respected their weekly chapel visit knowing it was my choice to send her there, it made me cringe a little when she would come home and tell me that God created the world. But as I said, it was a choice to send her to an Anglican school, and therefore we had to accept the religious aspect. However, I expected an inner-city public school to be a lot more progressive than that.
When my daughter asks me if I believe in God, or if God created the world, I simply tell her “well, no, but that’s what some people believe”. I can imagine however that it would make a lot of people who are either atheist or from a different cultural or religious background uncomfortable to have their children coming home from a supposedly secular school asking these questions.
We pray for your blessing God
On the work we are doing today,
That we may do it well both in school and out,
May we be good to each other
And try to do well in all things,
And be honest, truthful, kind, and
Respectful to all.
While it’s a lovely sentiment, I do think that it could easily be changed to some kind of affirmation (not prayer!) that reflects the same qualities and promises without needing to mention God.
In the interest of multiculturalism, I believe that we should keep our public schools a neutral ground, where everyone’s religion and culture is respected, but not taught or any one religion favoured.
What do you think? Is there a place for religion in Australian public schools?
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