Mormons don’t like prayer in schools, either?

Does anyone remember this case: Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000)? I was reading a book about the political views of Mormons and came across it. Turns out one of the “Does” in this case was a Mormon family, “The suit was filed by a Mormon family and a Catholic family who felt their children were being discriminated against in the overwhelmingly Baptist town of Santa Fe, Texas. Students and teachers alike allegedly mistreated them at school because of their religious beliefs. In this case, the Mormon family living outside of the Mormon Culture Region saw school prayer as a threat, simply because of the context in which they find themselves.”
(p. 16, from Fox, Jeffrey C. 2006. Latter-Day Political Views. Lexington Books.)



I was kind of shocked by this given my experience in high school. I grew up in relatively rural Utah and we prayed before graduation, before soccer games, etc. We prayed in school a lot. Does anyone know if prayer is still common in schools in Utah? If so, what does that say about religion (I’m using Mormonism as a general example here, not a specific one): As long as you’re the majority it’s okay, but as soon as you’re the one that is in the minority and your rights are being trampled upon, it’s not.



The next time your discussing religion’s role in public life and you suggest it should be curtailed because there is a large, non-religious minority in the U.S., if someone says the minority should shut up, reference this case.



I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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16 Responses

  1. Kullervo says:

    Curtailing religion in public life because of a large nonreligious minority is not the same thing as the Constitutional prohibition against the Establishment of Religion.

  2. Many minority religions in the U.S. have historically supported separation between church and state (at least until they become the majority).

  3. profxm says:

    Kullervo… Is this “curtailing religion in public life”? I don’t think the legal decision says the religious cannot pray or even that they cannot pray in public (lots of public schools now have religious clubs and they can pray in classrooms, on their own time). What it says is that publicly funded schools cannot mandate prayer nor force it on others. This is the Establishment Clause. If tax dollars pay for it, then it cannot include any religious content. Otherwise, you have an “establishment of religion.”

    Jonathan… That’s precisely my point: Mormons don’t have problems with prayers in schools so long as it is Mormons giving the prayers in predominantly Mormon schools in Utah and the intermountain area. But as soon as Mormons become the minorities, this becomes an issue and they don’t favor it. I’m just wondering why people can’t take a broader perspective all the time and realize that it is always in their best interest to keep government and religion separate.

  4. Seth R. says:

    My experience growing up on the Wasatch front is that the Mormon population in general really isn’t as worked-up about hot button school issues like evolution or school prayer. The reason probably being that Mormons actually bother to religiously educate their kids outside of school, while other Americans are hoping the public schools will do their job for them.

    The existence of a well-organized and popular seminary program means that hearing about evolution in school just isn’t that big a deal. And who needs school prayer if you can get it in seminary.

    Rural Utah is a bit of a throwback in many ways. I try not to extrapolate the Mormon faith by what’s going on in Richfield Utah anymore (where I grew up, by the way).

    Sure, you’ll get some Utahns who are all gung ho about school prayer, because they personally worship Sean Hannity. But, obnoxious as those folks are, they aren’t the majority. Most Mormons in the Wasatch corridor are lukewarm about these controversies at best.

  5. Seth R. says:

    In short, no, I don’t think most Wasatch Mormons really care that much about school prayer or feel a burning need to open high school football games with prayer, etc, etc.

  6. Kullervo says:

    profxm, I am familiar with the Constitutional issues. I was just pointing out an important distinction. Prayer in school is a violation of the Constitution, but not every expression of religion in public life is. You used the phrase.

  7. wry.catcher says:

    I remember moving to Utah when I was in 6th grade…and being literally shocked by the morning’s classes being started with a prayer. And people got assigned from the class to give a prayer. I don’t know what would happen if a kid was not a pray-er, but was asked to pray in school. I know I never did it, but I told my teacher separately that I wouldn’t, so they knew not to call on me. I don’t recall it being a huge deal that I opted out, but it was definitely an odd situation for me.

    What’s funny for me now is, I remember looking around and wondering if all the students and teachers were Mormons. It was Orem in the ’80s, I’m pretty sure they were. 😀

  8. profxm says:

    Seth, do you know the Belnaps? They are close relatives of mine.

    Kullervo, point well taken.

  9. Seth R. says:

    Yeah, lived across the street for a year. Used to feed grasshoppers to Jason’s ant-farm. My dad worked at the same clinic as their dad.

    They always had all the cool stuff. Trampoline, Atari, X-Wing fighters…

  10. profxm says:

    Small world. Definitely them. They did always have all the cool stuff. Living outside Utah, I rarely see them these days, but I try to keep up with them whenever possible. Brian is my age and was my closest cousin growing up. I email Jason occasionally via another website and we chat about being college professors. Next time I see them I’ll have to mention I know you.

  11. Seth R. says:

    Don’t know if he remembers. We only lived nearby for one year and he was one grade higher than me.

  12. Mike says:

    This case was in the Utah newspapers and Sunstone, too, I believe. The way that the locals in Santa Fe selected the person to pray was very limited (only Baptist and Methodist need apply), and people who objected were severely ostracized. The Doe families were courageous in their objections. And I delighted to use the case to inject some rationality into my high priest group discussions about the issue.

  13. chanson says:

    Mike — That’s very encouraging that the case was publicized in Utah and discussed at church. It’s true this looks like a case of “Mormons don’t mind imposing their religion on others when they’re in the majority, but don’t like it when others do it to them,” but it’s hard for people to understand a situation they’ve never been faced with.

    On some level you can’t expect people to spontaneously, intuitively grasp what it’s like to be the one kid of a different faith (or no faith) when the teacher opens class with prayer if they’ve never been in the minority in their community. Talking about this in Utah presents an opportunity to encourage people to think about this, and to think about how they can apply “Do unto others…” in their own communities.

  14. Thaddeus says:

    I grew up in Provo, UT and we never had a school-sponsored prayer. There was a prayer at graduation, but I remember hearing about the rules: the school couldn’t announce it as part of the program and it had to be spontaneous (i.e. some go-getter had to stand up to the mike and say a prayer at the appropriate time). I suppose the platform was open for any denomination, but there was just one Mormon prayer that year.

    I personally find the idea of school prayer distasteful (and I’m an active LDS member). Prayer is sacred communication with God and ought not to be ponied around on stage just to assert one’s rights.

    What Do Mormons Believe?

  15. profxm says:

    Thaddeus, that sounds like my experience with graduation. We couldn’t list a prayer on the program, but someone gave one – I forget who. And, of course, it was a Mormon.

    I remember thinking at the time that we were making a political statement (I was studentbody president and made the decision to do it). Little did I realize I was actually infringing on the rights of others…

    Thanks for posting.

  16. Hellmut says:

    To be clear, people can pray any time they want. That’s covered under freedom of speech.

    Personally, I consider public prayer unseemly because Christ warned against praying on the street corners. However, my religious sensibilities need not commit anyone else.

    School prayer becomes illegal only when an officer of the state arranges it. It would be wrong, for example, for a principle to ask a teacher to offer a prayer or to instruct a parent how to pray.

    After all, religion is a matter of conscience and the government should not impose it. As student body presidents are officers of the state, they should not conspire to have a school prayer. When they do, they are imposing the religion of a majority on the minority.

    When Deseret Mormons impose their religion on their gentile neighbors, our co-religionists fail to appreciate that they are compromising Mormons in Texas, for example, who routinely have to suffer the impositions of Baptists.

    Being in the majority gives you many rights. Religious domination is not among them for religion must be a matter of conscience.

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