May 26, 2019

The Public School Prays

Imagine this scenario: Students from a local public middle school are invited to visit the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington D.C. to study the architecture of the building and to get an authentic experience of Catholic practices.  An employee at the Center then gives the students a brief history of the Church and tells them it is the one true Church and that every other belief is false.  Then the employee announces that it is time to say a rosary.  Several non-Catholic students are invited to participate in the prayers, and a few of them join in while the rest of the students watch quietly. During the rosary, not one teacher nor chaperone steps forward to stop the students from participating in what is clearly a form of proselytizing.

What do you think the reaction would be from the parents of the students who attended the field trip?  Concern? Confusion? Shock? What about the parents of the non-Catholic students who were “selected” to say the rosary? Anger? Outrage? And what about the ACLU? Wouldn’t it be the first group to yell “separation of church and state” from the courthouse steps? I think it is safe to say that all these emotions and reactions would occur.

But this scenario did not take place at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. Instead, it occurred at the Muslim American Society’s Boston Mosque. Students from the Wellesley Massachusetts Public Middle School were taken on a field trip to the mosque on May 25 of this year. Ostensibly, it was an opportunity for the students to experience the Muslim culture. A female convert addressed the students and told them about the glories of Allah and Islam. She even told the students that Islam is so advanced that women in Arabia in the seventh century were allowed to vote, a right that women in America were not entitled to until 1917. Of course, those who know history know that neither women nor men voted in seventh century Arabia, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Misinformation is bad enough, but the real problem occurred when the woman announced it was time for the midday prayer.  The female teachers, chaperones, and students were segregated from the prayer area.  Several Wellesley boys were asked to join in the prayers, and a few of them did, one of whom was Jewish. Yet, like the scenario above, not one adult intervened.

Was this newsworthy event covered on ABC, CBS, NBC, or CNN? Did the ACLU call a press conference to denounce the school district and the mosque and to announce a class-action lawsuit? Can pigs fly? But you can bet your life that had this incident been played out at a Catholic institution, all hell would have broken loose.

Four months after this event, an organization called Americans for Peace and Tolerance released a ten-minute video taken by a parent chaperone, clearly showing the boys participating in the prayer. After it was released, the superintendent of the school district offered an apology and declared that there would be closer scrutiny in future field trips.

I am well aware that the separation of church and state doctrine is legal fiction and has been used to drive any and all aspects of religion from the public square. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, unless we are dealing with Islam. Then all bets are off.

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Written by
Thomas Addis

THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children's book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.

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Written by Thomas Addis