How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools


Somewhere in the turbulence of high school, I found myself at a rally to protect traditional marriage. The rally was led by the (in)famous James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family and well-known advocate of “traditional marriage.” It consisted of Dobson bellowing a very convicted and passionate speech about how we must protect our children from a future America that will throw God away and ignore his commands. The event center full of people cheered with wild but Midwest-polite fury. I was there willingly, having not yet committed myself to the burning questions that destroyed my religious foundations and rebuilt them unconventionally. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I think Dobson and his supporters are pretty straight-up wrong about how they interpret marriage, but I vividly remember something else he said that has had me confused for years. In the midst of Dobson’s pleas to “remember God” during these trying and confusing times, he prompted the crowd—“We want prayer in schools again!!” and the crowd would cheer uncontrollably; “We want the name of God on our nation’s currency!” Again, people clapping and screaming; “we want the religion of our fathers in this country again! We want to be one! Nation! Under! God!” and people are just going insane. But even then, I was confused, and I guess I still am. So here I am to ask a few questions about this agenda.

There is a strong demand by traditional Christians to involve their religion in the politics and government of the United States. It really only starts with legislating morality like bans on gay marriage, but it also includes things like demanding prayer in public schools, erecting religious statues on state grounds (the famous Texas courthouse) and basically protecting the religious rhetoric that seeps into all politics (don’t get me started on presidential speeches) and essentially denies the worth of the other religions and lack of religions that live and thrive in this country. And I truly cannot understand why. How could keeping “In God We Trust” on our currency help anyone to actually know God? Has it ever? Because in my experience, pushy Christianity does exactly that: pushes. A prayer at a public school graduation only makes people that don’t pray uncomfortable and unwelcome. Which church agendas strive to make visitors uncomfortable and unwelcome? It seems to me like we’re letting our sentimentality get the best of us here. Isn’t it kind of like when a high school football team refuses to change its name from the “Fighting Chiefs” because “it’s always been like that?” The team is choosing to hurt a group of people with a violent label rather than take a few steps to change their name. I’m already anticipating the “This is a Christian Nation!” plea, but there is already more than enough great writing disputing that fact that I will not waste keystrokes on it.

Perhaps these people have historical interests in pushing intrusive religion. That’s fine with me, but they should be passionate historians, not passionate Christians.

What if Christians went out of their way to learn about other religions and whole-heartedly respect them—without the intent to evangelize? What if they listened when atheists talked about the reasons they don’t believe? What if we took scientific questions seriously? Could we shed our reputation as pushy truth-deniers? Or will we strive to maintain our very comfortable and politically powerful spot in the supposed majority? 

 Christians should put everyone else’s comfort ahead of their own. They should be willing to duck into a corner to pray with their families; to put themselves out for the sake of the group. That would be a cool reputation to have—I think one that Jesus (and Gandhi) would approve of.

How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools

8 thoughts on “How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools

  1. If the Christians have the One True God, why do they have to push? Can’t they be calm and confident without proving something to me? Can I see an example of their confidence in their God by their lives?
    They may not kill me for not agreeing with them (like some ‘faiths’ do), but why do they have to shame me? Who needs friends like that? Leave me alone, and have a good life. (Thanks, Dannika)

    1. I’ve always wondered this, too. The One True God of the pushy evangelicals is stunningly weak and insecure, if He can be “thrown out of schools,” as I often hear He was.

      The God I believe in is nowhere near that easily bullied, and I don’t think He needs us bullying and steamrolling other people and their right to freedom of conscience for him.

  2. Your stance for gay marriage, and gay rights is not based on anything from the Bible. It is based on your compassion for others, and your love of others, which is totally Biblical. We are told to love others again in again in The Bible. However if God thought homosexuality was right, and not a sin, Jesus would have said it. It would not have been called a sin in the Old Testament. God loves and forgives all that ask for it, but he hates sin.

    There is only One God, and he is a jealous God. His word and his love is sufficient. Respecting others is one thing, but respecting false religions? We are to worship God, period. Other religions only have bits and pieces of good things them, and those elements are copied from Christianity!

    Christians shouldn’t intend to evangelize?! If Christians won’t tell others about Jesus’ love, who will? That’s what Jesus told the church to do tell others about him, so people will be saved.

    One more thing. Should a student not be allowed to pray at a graduation? How is that free speech? Are other people being silent to Christians because

      1. allie says:

        I urge you to consider your view from another perspective. What if we lived in a country where members of another religion saw fit to promote their god and religion above others – one that you don’t share? Where at every public event – your child’s music concert, graduation – or even your child’s school classroom, this other religion was promoted above yours? Remember that first amendment to our constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. Our founding fathers included this clause not to discriminate against religion – but to protect it. When government is neutral – that is, does not promote one religion over another – this protects those who choose not to believe in a god, as well as those who choose to believe in a god.

  3. Oh, the thought of a world where we can all just be who we are, and worship who or what we please, without being told we are going to hell for it. Keep up the fight, Dannika. The Divine lives in all of us, no matter what dogma we choose, with our free will, given to us by the Creator of all that is, to believe in.

  4. I don’t think schools and the government should promote Christianity, or any other religion. But I also don’t think that teachers, or much more importantly students should be silenced to talk about their religion, or express it. Students should be able to be a part of religious clubs that should be allowed to happen after school, and students should feel open to pray out loud, and talk about their faith. While with more restrictions, teachers should be able to talk their religion, and have teachers be involved in religious events. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a teacher to tell students they pray for them, or say that they are a Christian or what their religion. Schools and school districts should have their own rules about what is acceptable.

    The 1st Amendment was made to protect freedom of religion. But at a Federal level. This is what it says “Congress shall not…” They were worried of there being an official church, like there was in England, or having a law saying Christianity, or that some denomination of church was the religion of the country. They thought it was up for state and local governments and schools to make their own polices and make their own decisions. They never thought any expression of religion should be allowed on schools or government property. They thought there was nothing wrong with reading the Bible in school, allowing prayers, or religious symbols. Only Congress can violate the 1st Amendment.

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