The opinion persists, that one cannot pray in a public school.
That isn't true. A child can pray, if he/she so wishes. The government and their respective public schools and teachers cannot and should not though devise organized prayers for children to recite.
It is not in the interest of the state to encourage religious belief. To do so, would violate the rights of the parents of non-Christians and those Christian parents who don't want the government interfering in the religious upbringing of their children.
Although Madelyn Murray O'Hair is used as a scapegoat by many to demonize all that is secular, an honest and objective reading would see that the United States Supreme Court case and similar cases that dealt with the issue of organized school prayer, would show that she was on the right side of this particular issue.
These decisions on school prayer stated that the government should be neutral on the question of government involvement in religion and the furthering of religion, that it was wrong for the government to require the reading of the Lord's Prayer and bible readings in schools.
These cases didn't establish atheism, as some state in our schools, but supported the rights of students and their parents who object to the state using their tax dollars to further a religion they didn't believe in.
What is freedom of religion, if the government tries to make you a Christian through Bible readings?
That is freedom? What of young children taught to be Muslims by Quran readings in Pakistan, do we want that? That is freedom?
Madelyn Murray O'Hair wasn't the only parent with a child whose rights were violated; there were countless if not millions of others who were too scared to voice an objection and be labeled communists, unpatriotic and even to maybe be threatened with physical violence.
Has the end of organized/mandated school prayers and Bible readings been a positive for America?
Race relations are improved, segregation is over. Indeed, per capita violent crimes, teen pregnancies and other indicators of social ills are at the lowest levels in 10 or in some cases, 30 years.
James Madison viewed it is imperative to keep religion and state separate, "The Civil government ... functions with complete success ... by the total separation of the Church from the State," in a letter to Gene Garman.
I don't think these Founders would object to voluntary prayer in lieu of school organized prayers while keeping the government out of the religion or nonreligion of its citizens.