I AM somewhat surprised as well as disappointed with former President of Guyana Mr Donald Ramotar, who stated in the ‘I-News Guyana’ on October 26th instant that:
“It is my view that we should cease having prayers of any kind in schools.”
I am recommending that children and teachers continue to pray without ceasing. Permit me to express my unbiased opinion on the views stated by Mr. Ramotar.
I am sure that Guyana still has freedom of religion. Prayers in schools is therefore constitutional and supports the principle of freedom of religion. Our children should be able to participate openly in this great heritage, seeking help, strength, and endurance from God as did their forefathers. School prayers would instill moral values. Schools must do more than train children’s minds academically. They must also nurture their souls and reinforce the values taught at home and in the community churches.
I believe that people of any and all faiths should not have to feel intimidated when they wish to pray in a public situation. School employees and students alike should be free to pray at school. Because of the diversity of faiths and beliefs in Guyana, schools should nurture an atmosphere of respect for people with religious convictions. Guarding schoolchildren from observing another person’s religious expression does not nurture understanding, it nurtures ignorance, and it deprives them of learning experiences that broaden their understanding of life.
Praying in school is also a form of expression, and along with the values taught and upheld by the school system, prayers can lay additional foundation for drama, art, music language concepts and creativity.
From my observation, when people are not given the option to pray, there is a severe threat of spiritual decline that enters our communities. The individuals in charge of teaching children already have the responsibility to offer balanced learning options. How can they do so if they are forbidden from teaching prayer, but are permitted to teach students such ideas as evolution, while promoting personal perspectives on life? Prayer tells people that they are more than just an animal or a collection of energy and chemicals that occupy space. It is an action that proclaims the importance of all life and shows that there is a destiny for everyone if they are willing to take it. It also helps to guide students toward better choices throughout the year.
In addition, students of the same faith, and even of different faiths, can band together in unity and solidarity. Prayer brings people together to share in worship and appreciate each other’s beliefs. Furthermore, school prayers could lead to increased tolerance and less bullying in school, since it can instil a sense of right and wrong and a love for others above oneself. School prayers may cause students to acknowledge a power greater than themselves on whom they can rely for comfort and help in times of trouble. This will lead to decreased reliance on drugs, alcohol, sex, and dangerous amusements, as well as decreased suicides, the latter being prevalent in our society.
Mr Editor, The former President also stated that “Religion is a private matter for each individual and it should be kept that way.” I do not agree with this statement since nothing could be further from the truth. If religion were private, it would dwindle and disappear, and atheists would be happy about it. But then it wouldn’t be religion at all. Christianity, for instance, is founded on the idea that we have good news to share with the world — they are in trouble, in sin, under God’s wrath and facing judgement and eternal punishment, but the good news is that the same God has done an extraordinary thing to save us — He died in our place. All religions command their followers to share their views and to do so in a loving, and non-offensive, non-coercive way. Religion is also a social construct aimed at living right, finding purpose, and trying to avoid the eternal damnation of our souls. Therefore, if you are aware of the truth and do not share this information, it becomes evil and selfish. Keeping your religion private is harmful to others, and thus, the argument proposed for keeping religion private is quite ridiculous.
From my experience, I also believe that the best time to become aware of God as a Supreme Being and enjoy life’s blessings is in our youth, through our prayers. Here is the advice from King Solomon, the wisest, “Remember thy Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come…” Ecclesiastes 12: 1
Finally, let me say that praying at home and in church is not enough. Children spend at least 10 years of their lives in school. There is no better place to acquire a basic knowledge of the various religious beliefs of their classmates. Being exposed to other religions tears down the stereotypes of people who follow a certain faith and the culture that is tied to it. Prayer in schools can be an opportunity for students, teachers, principals, and other school officials to promote religious tolerance and acceptance. We do not want a beautiful country to degenerate into moral decay.
Rev. Dr. Joel Chinapen, D.D., M.A., B.A., B.S.