Photo: Stephen Poff, Flickr Creative Commons
I'm the wrong person to ask this. I am strongly secular and I'm far from a fair representation of the average beliefs of my community. This isn't an easy question for me to answer, so I answered as reasonably as I could. "It's a matter of common decency."
Of course I didn't leave it there. That could be easily misinterpreted. Despite my lack of religion, and my frequent suspicion of religious people in positions of power, I am not anti-religion. I went on to use the example of unnamed students I had taught in the past who were Hindu. I asked what they think it would have felt like to be that student having their teacher, a person in a position of authority, leading the entire class in a Christian prayer when they were raised as something other than a Christian. Then I told the kids to reverse that scenario. What if they were the only Christian in a class where the Hindu teacher led a Hindu ritual they didn't agree with. It's the same concept.
I'm not sure how many of them really understood. They're smart kids, but 14-year-olds aren't exactly good at putting themselves in other people's shoes. That usually comes later in the development of the human mind, although listening to politics, I'm not sure it ever comes for many people.
Of course, these kids were far from spewing the idiocy I often hear when people talk about religion in the schools. The first kid was genuinely confused and they probably aren't hearing any rational arguments about the issue at home. I hear all the time from average people here that God was taken out of schools, and this just isn't true. The real fact is that, at least in this state, the only restriction is that people in positions of authority cannot advocate religion or require students to pray. This is a good thing, even if you just go back to my original argument about common decency and the lone Hindu kid. It's intimidating for kids and teachers should never intentionally single a kid out for being different. Anyone who remembers middle school knows why. Even if a teacher isn't intentionally proselytizing, it very likely comes across that way to the kid. It's not a fair theological fight. That doesn't mean students can't practice their beliefs in school. Students are allowed to pray. Students are allowed to discuss religion. They can form religious clubs that meet during the school day. There's even a state-mandated moment of silence that was created by the government to give these kids a chance to pray. Actually, it was meant to be a stiff finger to the court's ruling preventing them from forcing their students to pray, but whatever.
In other words, God was never taken out of the schools. We just aren't allowed to shove him down your kids' throats. If they want to shove it down their own throats, we're happy to let them. It's just not my job.