Prayer Panacea?: Ky. Group Says ‘Inspirational Messages’ In Public Schools Will Solve Several Ills

The Kentucky chapter of the American Family Association (AFA) just released a petition that declares, in no uncertain terms, that prayer in schools will take us back to Jesus and best of all, boost student test scores, lower the crime rate and even decrease the rate of HIV infection.

A Religious Right group in Kentucky is calling on parents to demand the right to deliver “inspirational messages” during public school assemblies, and they’re providing some interesting “facts” to make their case.

The Kentucky chapter of the American Family Association (AFA) just released a petition that declares, in no uncertain terms, that prayer in schools will take us back to Jesus and best of all, boost student test scores, lower the crime rate and even decrease the rate of HIV infection.

“After prayer was removed from our schools, teen pregnancy went up 500%, STD’s went up 226%, violent crime went up 500% and SAT scores went down for 18 years in a row, opening the door for the AIDS epidemic and the drug culture,” asserts the petition.

Take that, science!

The AFA blames “anti-God” forces for this moral decay and draws inspiration for their petition from new laws in Mississippi and Florida. These laws allow children to give “inspirational messages” in school assemblies. That means school prayer, according to the group, and they’re demanding that Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear adopt similar legislation.

The AFA likely got its “facts” from David Barton, the Religious Right’s preeminent pseudo-historian, who also attributes pretty much every bad thing that has happened in America over the past 50 years to Engel v. Vitale, the landmark 1962 Supreme Court ruling that struck down mandatory, coercive forms of school-sponsored prayer.

In fact, the belief that if one event occurred after another, the first must have caused the second is a common logical fallacy. The two may be related, but some proof is needed, not just an assertion. This is the sort of thing you learn in day one of a course in logic or critical thinking, so naturally I wouldn’t expect anyone at the AFA to know it.

And let’s remember, the Engel ruling was clear: Despite these laws in Florida and Mississippi it is unconstitutional for a public school to conduct prayer. It became unconstitutional in 1962, and it’s still unconstitutional in 2013.

One wonders what, exactly, the AFA considers “inspirational.” A quick glance at its website offers a clue. Kentucky children could learn that being gay leads to disease and early death. Maybe they’ll get a crash course in apologetics along with the traditional Three Rs. Maybe Kentucky will get its own Pam Stenzel fiasco. After all, who needs facts when you’ve got conviction?

It’s clear which of the two AFA prioritizes. For all its criticism of alleged anti-religious indoctrination in the public schools, it offers nothing more substantial on its own end. Its Kentucky chapter’s website rather simplistically proclaims,“Some people believe in God. Some oppose God and try to prevent others from receiving the love of God.”

So many assertions, so few citations – no citations, in fact, to support their claims that without God, without fundamentalist Christianity specifically, Kentucky’s children will be abandoned to the “law of the jungle” and the predatory impulses of those dangerous gays. AFA isn’t concerned about education. This is just a salvo in the culture wars, and if Beshear surrenders to it, children will suffer.

The Religious Right already enjoys a toe-hold in Kentucky public education. Kentucky law prioritizes “abstinence-only” education, which is probably the real source of Kentucky’s STD and teen pregnancy woes. And a recent attempt to mandate scientifically accurate curriculum in schools met with significant backlash from conservative churches and religious groups.

Kentucky’s children deserve better. A school’s job is to impart knowledge, not dogma, even if the AFA thinks they’re one and the same.

The AFA is clearly in the wrong. They’re wrong to claim that, somehow, prayer affects rates of AIDS, teen pregnancy and SAT scores. They’re wrong on the law. And they’re wrong to pressure Kentucky’s state government to endorse religion.

Beshear should respond to AFA’s petition with a resounding “citation needed.”