Prayer in Public

Since the election, there has been even more about the issue of prayer in school on my social media feeds.

Here’s my viewpoint on this.

When I moved to Texas in my junior year of HS (January 1978), I had my first taste of prayer in school and it has left a lifelong bad taste in my mouth for any sort of public prayer.

The school used to do the prayer over the loudspeaker every day. Every day it was “in the name of Jesus”. I had never experienced this in my 17 years. We never had prayer in school in New York City. Not ever. We did salute the flag every day. But prayer? No. Never.

Every day in an Arlington, Texas, public high school, however, the Jewish girl that I am was subjected to a Christian prayer. Every single day I felt dirty and ashamed. I only told my mom about this for the first time last week. This was almost 40 years ago and I didn’t want to talk about it until recently.

Now when I’m asked in public meetings and events to bow my head, I don’t. (I only ever bow in Temple for those prayers that call for the bend of the knee and the bowing of the entire upper body.)

And during that public prayer, I wait for it — that “in Jesus’s name”. And I get that clench in my stomach and the tightness in my jaw because I know it’s coming. And I’m surprised on the rare occasions that it doesn’t. But that awful feeling, even as a 55 year old adult never leaves me.

Over the years I’ve tried to rationalize it. “They don’t mean to be exclusive.” “They don’t know better.” “I just ignore the ‘in Jesus’ part and remind myself that I believe in God.” Or in those instances where the leader just says “In his name” I ┬ásay to myself that it doesn’t really mean “Jesus” when they say “his” but the truth is, they are saying”in His name” and they do, indeed, mean “Jesus”.

All of my rationalizations don’t help. The lack of understanding of how that prayer is not my prayer; that I don’t want to pray in the name of Jesus. That I am sitting in a public meeting and don’t want to have to even make myself rationalize my feelings to make this situation palatable. Hey, if I was sitting in a church or a private club meeting, or someone’s private home, sure! I expect the prayer and I just sit quietly and take everyone’s hands as asked and be respectful as respectful can be.

But in a public meeting, and in the instances when I’m a member of a non-religious organization that insists on having prayer before the meeting or meal, it takes everything I have to stay quiet anymore. Because let me state this unequivocally — I am a Jew. I am not Christian. I do not believe that Jesus is God and I sure as heck don’t want to pray to Jesus. That you do is okay. It’s your religion — believe what you want to believe. Just don’t make me follow.