The question of school prayer has haunted the American society for a long time. There have always been proponents as well as opponents of the prayers held in schools. Such arguments purport to point out the relevance or irrelevance, as well as the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the practice. The USA Today has presented an excellent case on how school prayer can hurt the American population. On the other hand, Armstrong Williams has forwarded an equally excellent case on why American schools should undertake school prayers. The essay will examine the two arguments and identify the soundest view.
Positive aspects of religion in school
Williams argues that protecting voluntary school prayer would go a long way in improving morals. He argues that inculcating religion to school going children would direct them towards the adoption of positive morals and, as a result, lead to a cohesive society. This is the principal strength of Williams’ position as religion can inculcate positive values into people. Albert Bandura’s experiments on modeling and observation learning have proven this fact. Thus, it is crucial to uphold the role of religion in public life. Schools can use religion to define and socialize children towards the cherished morals. As Williams posits, religion might remove the now prevalent negative practices of schools, such as promoting the use of condoms and explicit sex.
Besides, Williams posits that the arguments for the abolishment of prayers are a result of the tyranny of the minority. The author warns that the society should not only notice the tyranny of the majority, but also that of the minority. The fallacy of argumentum ad populum is crucial to understand this perspective. Argumentum ad populum simply means an appeal to belief, to the majority, or to the people. Here, the person has no facts based on the topic and scrutiny but relies on the idea “everybody supports it”. However, Williams goes ahead to posit that the opposite is also true. He proposes that we should not condemn the tyranny of the majority only and ignore the tyranny of the minority. Ignoring the tyranny of the minority would enable them to impose values that might be selfish. Williams exposes this case excellently by showing the way the minority “nonreligious people” impose their nonreligious values to everyone.
The weakness of Williams’ argument lies in the use of the base rate fallacy. This involves making probability judgments based on conditional probabilities while not taking into account the effect of prior probabilities. For instance, William posits, “the fact that this country was once unashamedly Christian did not mean that it was intolerant of other views”. This claim might not be the absolute truth. We should seek to know other factors that support it. First, we need to know the history of religious tolerance in American schools. We should find out if the largely Christian society tolerated the views of other people. In fact, USA Today reports that children faced stigma and discrimination when they exhibited alternative religious views in school. Arguments for the religious tolerance of the American society should not base on hearsay and rumors but facts. We need to take into account all possible variables before we make a conclusion.
Views on the way prayer in schools can hurt
The strength in this view lies in the threat to religious liberty brought about by school prayers. USA Today presents a case of a woman whose children face discrimination because they do not believe in God as everyone else does in the school. Another crucial point is that schools should not force children to participate or listen to prayers as this is against their freedom of conscience. The argument that school prayers are voluntary does not hold water because of the stigma and discrimination that result when a student fails to take part in the service. Besides, schools use the public address systems to conduct prayers, and there are bible study classes at every grade. USA Today argues that schools should stay neutral on religious matters so as not to pit one religion against the other. As a result, there is no need of a constitutional amendment that would protect voluntary prayers in schools.
USA Today presents an appealing case just like Williams’ argument. However, various fallacies in the argument need exposure. First, in analyzing the case against school prayers, we should take note of the use of the appeal to emotion. In this case, USA Today presents a case of a woman with her six children who face unthinkable injustices at school because of not subscribing to the religious view of the majority. We should divorce the judgment from emotive stories of people who claim to have faced first brutality of school prayers. The fallacy of appeal to emotion involves painting an emotive picture to the audience in order to win their support. Appealing to emotion redirects the focus of an argument from objectivity to subjectivity. Besides, emotive stories compel us to commit argumentum ad misericordiam, which refers to appealing to pity. Here, we should be wary of imaginative stories that might exaggerate the purported injustices of school prayers. We should seek evidence for every claim instead of allowing emotional tricks. The judgment should not depend on any emotional attachment to something but empiricism. A decision on the subject of school prayer should base on thinking, comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating the evidence of the practice.
In my view, Williams’ argument is more appealing than that of USA Today. The idea of tyranny of the minority clearly indicates the soundness of Williams’ reasoning. America should not overlook individual rights and freedoms in the pursuit of fulfilling minority rights.