I’m not a fan of public prayers in public places other than churches. It makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Some of this may be my contrarian reaction to prayers in classes at BYU and to the often earnest but uncomfortable prayers offered up before dramatic performances. I don’t suppose visiting theatrical companies mind much; it goes with the venue. But I feel for the students who pray these prayers, whether they are a jumble of stock phrases or an earnest, but incoherent mush of sentiments that are slightly inappropriate for the situation at hand.
As an adult, I can experience different forms of worship and find inspiration. I can see common elements that speak to our shared faith, and I can enjoy the way a different emphasis can let me see the familiar with new eyes. And while I find pluralism comforting as an adult, it’s not always a viable worldview for children.
As a child, I was acutely aware that I went to a different church from all the other kids in my school. I can still distinctly remember being asked on the playground if I was a Christian and why I didn’t go to church like everyone else. At that time, saying I was a Mormon, but that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God was not enough to overcome bible-belt skepticism. I remember prayers before lunches and school assemblies that used unfamiliar patterns, and it was not what I had been taught. And being a Mormon child, I felt good that I knew the real truth, and that though these other Christians might be good people, they were still in the dark of the apostasy. But let me tell you, that little bit of good I felt for being right was cold comfort for often feeling lonely and out of place.
I like secret prayer, a private conversation between me and my God. And I respect the power of a group praying together, unifying their wills with God’s, sharing hope and devotion together with a resounding “amen.” But I hated it when hearing another kind of prayer made me feel like the other, the outsider.
I can’t blame my childhood social failings on my religion or the religion of my Christian neighbors. But I never want to have my religion, my shared prayers, make another child feel like an outsider. Because of this, I am strongly against all official prayers in public schools, especially in areas where one religion is dominant. When it is easy to assume that you are right, and that most others agree with you, it is also easy to not notice those your actions marginalize.