Prayer in schools prior to 1962 was utilized in school districts all over the U.S. in many varieties. Some teachers used extemporaneous prayers, simply expressing their thoughts and desires; others implemented structured prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm, or others approved by local school boards. New York students prayed each day:
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee and beg Thy blessing over us, our parents, our teachers, and our nation.”
It was this simple prayer which came under fire and went to the Supreme Court for the landmark decision.
Much has been said both for and against prayer in schools. There is little doubt that neither the Lord Jesus Himself nor the founding fathers would have been in favour of ‘forced’ or ‘state sponsored’ prayer. The option to pray or not to pray is a matter of individual choice and has to come from the heart. It is a matter of some doubt whether the actual doing away of prayer in schools has directly contributed to the escalation of teen-age pregnancies and suicides and the downward spiral of the SAT scores. The Pharisees thought they would be heard for their ‘much speaking’, and similarly it is questionable as to how much value there is in a ‘canned’ prayer even if recited by thousands of young people across the country. (Consider that most schools in India start their day with a very generic prayer, similar to the one that sparked the U.S. Supreme court’s decision on the Engels v. Vitale case in 1962).