Public School Prayer: A Threat to Religious Liberty?

By Milo Jones | Posted March 13, 2023

“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” spoke New York City Mayor Eric Adams at an annual interfaith breakfast on February 28, 2023. “State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.”

Earlier in his speech, the mayor used another metaphor to express the same sentiment. He explained why, as a youngster who enjoyed boxing, he would lose a fight every time he stepped into the ring. “Eric,” his trainer would say, “the problem is you leave your best fight in the gym, and you’re supposed to take it into the ring with you.”

Then, to the raised eyebrows of the civil libertarians in his audience, the mayor brought his metaphor home: “The synagogue is the gym. The church is the gym. The Sikh temple is the gym. The mosque is the gym. … You’re not there to leave your best worship in the gym. … When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”

School Prayer and the Culture War

Although Adams is a Democrat, he was not shielded from the ire of his fellows in the Media. “His rhetoric yesterday,” wrote Steve Benen, “was indistinguishable from the messages pushed by far-right televangelists and their GOP allies who still see school prayer as a culture war issue.”

Benen stressed the point that voluntary prayer was never removed from public schools. Students have always been able to pray on their own, even though court rulings have required teachers to remain neutral in such matters. “What Adams, many Republicans and the religious right movement prefer,” Benen continued to write, “is the old model: a system in which … public school officials intervene in children’s religious lives.” 

Which is exactly what the mayor alluded to in his speech. Reacting to the notion that “we need to build a world that’s better for our children,” he said, “No, we need to build children that’s better for our world.” And that means “instilling in them some level of faith and belief.” What Adams was proposing, therefore, is having teachers fulfill a parental role.

Yes, it’s disheartening to see children “stopping at the local bodega” to buy cannabis-laced gummy bears on the way to school because parents have abandoned their roles. But is government-sanctioned prayer the solution? Should teachers be required to begin each class invoking a deity? What would that sound like if led not by a Christian, but by a Jew, a Sikh, a Muslim … or a secular humanist? Or, to use Adam’s boxing metaphor, what would happen if every faith left its gym to enter the public school ring? Who would win that fight? 


In an interview with a local news anchor the following Monday, the mayor attempted to clarify some of his comments. He said that government should not dictate what happens in churches, nor should churches (he also mentioned mosques and synagogues) dictate what happens in government. But when questioned about his school prayer statement, he appeared determined to address “the faith of our children,” stating that only a “wholistic approach” will save them from society’s ills.

Protecting Religious Freedom

The problem with public school prayer—not the kind in which classmates gather voluntarily—involves more than different faiths competing in the ring. Prayer is an act of worship, and using the state to enforce one kind of worship over another has always resulted in religious persecution. It happened for more than 1,000 years under Roman Catholicism in Europe. And it happened during the 1600s under the Protestant Church of England, which is why many colonists came to America.

But not until Roger Williams clashed with fellow puritans in Massachusetts Bay did America itself begin to respect liberty of conscience. In his book The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, Williams argued that the duties of civil authorities involve “the commandments of the second table, which concern our walking with man,” but not those of “the first table … which [concern] the worship of God.” This is how he understood Romans 13, for after the apostle Paul states that “the governing authorities … are appointed by God” (v. 1), he restricts their reach to the last five commandments (v. 9). 

Williams’ ideas on the separation of church and state—including his argument that “a civil sword in religion makes a nation of hypocrites”—undoubtedly shaped the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Religion Clauses state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from instituting one creed over another, while the Free Exercise Clause protects people’s right to worship as they please.

In fact, the Free Exercise clause allows children in public schools to bow their heads over lunch trays or gather in Jesus’ name at recess, while the Establishment Clause prohibits school officials from getting involved.

The day is coming, however, when the freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience will come under the boots of a global, state church. And America, repudiating its constitutional principles, will play a leading role. Revelation 13 portrays this nation as “a lamb” that speaks “like a dragon” (v. 11). Using deceptive signs (vv. 13, 14) and, ultimately, the threat of death (v. 15), “he causes all”—people from every world religion—to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads” (v. 16).

Want proof that the United States is the beast that enforces a counterfeit liturgy just before Jesus comes to take His true worshipers’ home? Watch Pastor Doug’s presentation “The USA in Bible Prophecy.” 

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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