A story recently broke in the Boston area that I found interesting not only because of the mild controversy it has caused but because of the (in my view) troubling views of people who have commented on the event.
Here is my understanding of what happened. A group of 6th-graders from the suburb town of Wellesley went on a field trip to a local mosque. This was part of a social studies unit they were in the middle of called, “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today.” Before their trip to the mosque they had visited an synagogue, a gospel music performance, and met Hindus. My understanding is that the primary purpose of the visit was to have a tour of the building. At some point there was a prayer time (Muslims pray 5 times a day so the fact that their visit coincided with one of these is unsurprising.) During this time of a prayer, a number of the students on the field trip decided to join in. From what I have read, it looks like they did little more than line up with the people praying and briefly followed along with their actions. It doesn’t look like there was any coercion or involuntary participation. A few wanted to join in and were allowed to do so. Strikingly, the least offended people of these student’s actions were their own parents who were helping chaperone the trip.
An outburst of media activity has set people off about this however. Some think having a field trip to a mosque is too much. Some are offended that students were allowed to join in the prayers. And some think that simply having students observe the prayers went too far. To all these people I say firmly, “Remember the 1st Amendment?”
In America we have freedom of religion not freedom from religion. Learning about religion in an academic, non-proselytizing manner is legal. In addition voluntary religious behavior by anyone , student or otherwise, should be legal as well. I never understand people who say prayer isn’t allowed in school. Of course it is. If I want to bow my head quickly before starting a test, I can. If I want to sit by my locker and pray, I can. If I want to start a voluntary after-school prayer club on school grounds, I should be allowed to. And if students asked me to go sit down briefly with people they have been learning about to experience what they are doing, I would, time allowing, let them. It’s called getting an education.
We are blessed to have many freedoms here in the US and it is bothersome to see how woefully blown out of proportion this non-event has become.