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The Fourth R

By Joan DelFattore
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Book Details
  • Author: Joan DelFattore
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Published: 2004-02-09

A timely and engaging story of two centuries of controversy--and sometimes violence--over prayer in America's public schools

Contrary to popular belief, God has certainly not been kicked out of the public schools. What is banned is state-sponsored prayer, not the religious speech of the students themselves. But as news stories, political speeches, and lawsuits amply demonstrate, this approach has by no means resolved the long-standing debate over religion in public education. While some people challenge the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, with its reference to "one nation under God," others view school shootings and the terrorism of 9/11 as evidence that organized prayer must once again become part of the official school day.

In this lively book, Joan DelFattore traces the evolution of school-prayer battles from the early 1800s, when children were beaten or expelled for refusing to read the King James Bible, to current disputes over prayer at public-school football games. Underlying these events, she shows, is a struggle to balance two of the most fundamental tenets of Americanism: majority rule and individual rights. Her highly readable book explores the enduring tension between people of good will who wish the schools to promote majoritarian beliefs, and equally well-meaning (and often religious) people who deplore any governmental influence in religious matters.