Debate Over School Prayer in Hawaii Emerges

| by Maura Turcotte

The debate over prayer in schools has surfaced yet again with a recent Civil Rights Commission complaint in Hawaii.

Kawaikini Charter School Business Manager Stuart Rosenthal filed the complaint, claiming that his school often begins the day with compulsory Christian prayers.

“I work for a public school and am a state employee. I should not be forced to pray to Jesus Christ,” Rosenthal wrote in his complaint to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Moreover, Rosenthal’s vocal criticism of the prayers to the administration may have cost him his job. Rosenthal’s position has been removed for the coming school year, and while the school claims it is because of budget issues, Rosenthal believes otherwise. A newly-hired administrator responded to Rosenthal’s complaints by allegedly telling him “prayer is an important part of who we are,” the Honolulu Civil Beat reports.

Even though it was over 50 years ago that the Supreme Court ruled school-sponsored prayers to be unconstitutional, Hawaii has found particular difficulty following that decision. Many of Hawaii’s charter schools offer classes on the Hawaiian culture or language, but with pule, or prayer, such a huge part of tradition in Hawaiian culture, the line between teaching and sponsoring religion is very blurry, said Civil Beat.

Hawaii is not the only state that struggles to follow that Supreme Court ruling, however. Recently, a charter school board in North Carolina banned prayer instruction in school after a teacher taught and handed out prayer pamphlets, according to the Huffington Post.

The North Carolina board passed a policy clarifying that "[n]o person is required to participate in prayer," the site documents.

The decision upset many in the community, even spurring one man to remark, "If you deny these children the right to pray, you will stand in front of Jesus and he will deny you," reports the Huffington Post.

However, even though no prayer instruction is allowed, according to the Huffington Post, the board’s policy allows for "a moment of quiet reflection" -- something Hawaii’s schools may have to explore as well.

Sources: Honolulu Civil Beat, Huffington Post / Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons