Advice to an Atheist

Before now, I’ve written two previous posts offering, and soliciting, advice for atheist readers who’ve found themselves in difficult situations. With today’s post, I’m thinking I ought to make it a regular series.

I was contacted by a reader with the following dilemma:

As part of my job, I am often expected to attend and participate in public meetings that are put on either by my employer or by community councils that are affiliated with it. My Canadian employer is considered to be a public organization and the council members are voted in by their respective communities. None are government bodies and none have any religious affiliation or mandate. However, most of these meetings begin and end with a Christian prayer for which all in attendance are asked to stand. Most participants also close their eyes and bow their heads during the prayer which is typically given by an elder in attendance at the meeting and which often asks for guidance from God for the various decisions and discussions undertaken at the meeting.

I am an atheist and although this may be a small matter to many people, being asked to participate in prayer is not something I feel at all comfortable or happy about and am thankful that my regular duties and staff meetings do not include them. I don’t believe that supernatural guidance is necessary or is imparted in order to carry out our responsibilities at these meetings and I resent feeling coerced into an implicit agreement with this belief by participating in these prayers.

Certainly, no one is forcing me to stand or to be present for these prayers but by declining to participate at all, I must choose to centre myself out (and my nonparticipation in the prayer) either by remaining seated or by leaving the room. Although to date, I have participated by only standing and not bowing my head, I feel that even this is a compromise of my own principles. I am annoyed by the procedure, although I know that the prayers are benign and no one intends to give offence.

This isn’t a daily event and it isn’t a huge imposition but it has bothered me enough that I have written this. I am not sure that making a fuss is worth it, particularly given that I live in a small community and the ramifications of any overt action may be farther reaching than I would like. However, I also think that those responsible for leading these meetings need to consider that not all in attendance may wish to pray to the Christian god or indeed, pray at all and that conducting prayers in this way is coercive. What makes this situation also unique is that my organization and these councils were created specifically for the benefit of an aboriginal First Nation and hence many who attend these meetings would be sensitive to any criticism that would be seen to impose upon their cultural practises, particularly given the history of religious indoctrination imposed upon Canadian aboriginals in the past by government education policies.

I’d be grateful for any thoughtful advice you or your readers could give me.

And in a followup e-mail:

…As another example of how religious my home community is and how prevalent the prayer-before-a-meeting procedure is, a few nights ago our community began a debate with our local candidates for a federal election (!) with a Christian prayer, for which all were asked to rise. A woman beside me muttered to me before the prayer that this was something she never gets used to and is continually surprised by. Nonetheless, we both rose and stood silently along with everyone else in the room during the prayer which in usual style, asked for God’s guidance, assistance and oversight for all during the proceedings.

As always, context is everything when giving advice in situations like this. Much depends on how the prayer is viewed by the council members. Is this prayer just a formality that they carry on for the sake of tradition, or is it something they genuinely believe in and consider meaningful? (Granted, different council members may take different views about this.)

If it’s the former, you may have a chance at stopping it without causing a public scene. You described the situation by saying that no one there intends to give offense and that they may not realize that all attendees are Christian. Would it be possible for you to convey that to them? I’d advise starting with one particular council member – whichever one you think is most likely to be sympathetic to your views. You could approach them in private, state the fact that you’re not Christian and that you don’t feel comfortable being asked to take part in a prayer session for a religion in which you don’t believe. This approach could be adjusted depending on how you expect it to be received. If you’re concerned about a hostile response, your contact could be in the form of an anonymous letter. On the other side of the equation, you might make more of an impression if you could come, not just representing yourself, but with a signed petition from other attendees who are also opposed to the prayer. (It sounds though you’re not the only one.)

If you make your case and the council isn’t sympathetic, or if you elect not to take that route, the situation becomes tougher. I fully understand why you wouldn’t want to take part, or even give the impression that you’re taking part, in a religious ceremony. I feel the same way. To me, it would feel as if I’m going against my own principles to stand for prayer. Politeness is one thing, but being polite does not require that you give the appearance of assent.

On the occasions when politeness compels me to attend church, such as a wedding or a funeral, I follow a basic principle: I’ll sit quietly and politely, but that’s all. I don’t stand when the congregation stands, nor kneel if they kneel. I feel this strikes a good balance between attending the ceremony, not making a scene, but making it clear that I come as an outsider, not a member of the faith. I won’t interfere with people’s religious rituals, but neither will I participate. Perhaps this is a plan you could consider adopting, assuming the council isn’t willing to make things easier for you.

What do you say, readers? Can you improve on my advice?

On the Importance of Firebrand Atheism
Why People Are Flocking to a New Wave of Secular Communities: Atheist Churches
Why Atheism Is a Force for Good
SF/F Saturday: Terry Pratchett’s Death
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • RobT

    It may not be as strong a barrier as you may think. My small community is similarly saturated by religious people, and not very welcoming of outsiders and people who are ‘different’. A few years ago I became chairperson of an organization that began some of its meetings with a prayer. I was given an agenda for one of my first meetings to run that included the ‘blessing’. I just skipped that part. Someone remarked on the missing prayer afterwards, and I just replied “Oh, yeah, I don’t do that.” They clearly talked about it behind my back, but I just decided not to care. And I still run the meetings.

  • Russell

    A good way to halt this at counsel meetings is to have several people of differing faiths accompany you to the next meeting. When they finish their prayer, have those others step to the front and request they also be allowed to give a prayer to their god. After this happens 4 or 5 times, I bet they trash the whole thing.

  • Ceetar

    It’s probably not the best answer, but I’d probably show up late consistently. My answer being “You guys always pray first, so I figured the actual meeting starts at 2:03.” or something.

    I’ve got a ‘full mass’ type wedding to go to tomorrow..kinda dreading it.

  • AnonaMiss

    I think that the fact that your organization is for the benefit of an aboriginal group may actually help you instead of hurting you. It depends on the group in question, of course; some nations have gone Christian while others have not. I take it from the wording of your question that most of the citizens of this nation have gone Christian; but if even a sizable minority of the tribe adhere to their traditional religion, that could be a big foot in the door. While the leaders of the organization might dislike compromising their tradition for your sake, if they intend to represent or serve the aboriginal nation, they should recognize and respect the legitimacy (wrong word; something closer to “sovereignty,” though that’s not quite what I mean either) of the native religion, and the coercive power of Christian prayer on adherents of other religions especially in light of the history of the very nation you’re serving.

    However, if an overwhelming majority (say 90-95%) of the nation in question are Christian, I’d recommend not rocking the boat. Again, I don’t know the details of your situation, or even how the whole First Nations thing works in Canada; but around here, the major tribes are nations (mostly in name only) and can form their own policies on the type and amount of religion allowed in their governments/public events/etc. Asking for governmental changes for your own comfort in a nation you don’t belong to might be construed as an insult to their sovereignty. It’s one thing to protest something like that in your own country; it’s quite another to go to another nation and ask that they change their way of doing things for you.

    Just my two cents, as someone a little bit familiar with Euro/Native American interfacing in the US.

  • HP

    I view public prayer of this type as an opportunity to meet other atheists. Go ahead and stand when everyone else does — this gives you a clear view. Then, when everyone bows their heads, look around the room.

    Every time I do this, I see at least two or three other people doing the same thing. We smile, nod, maybe give a little wave. After the event, you have someone to go up and talk to.

  • Lux Aeterna

    Same dilemma here.
    I’m going to my best friend’s Christian youth group soon. I still haven’t made up my mind how to react when/if they pray or go through any rituals. My friend knows I’m an atheist, and he’ll probably understand if I sit. But the problem is that the others in the group may interpret it as a sign of rudeness as they feel that you should at least stand up in “respect”. In the same way that you stand at attention whenever a foreign anthem is played, perhaps I should stand too? But like the above reader, I feel uncomfortable even appearing to compromise my beliefs. But then again, I’ll feel awkward sitting when everyone’s standing…
    I’m planning to make clear the fact that I’m an atheist at the onset, like that they will understand. It’s Singapore and the number of freethinkers actually equals the number of Christians, so discrimination is practically non-existent.:)
    I guess I’ll talk to my friend and seek his suggestions.

  • Maynard

    I think it’s fair to abstain from rising for prayer or other participation. Many religions will exclude you from their rituals if you have different beliefs (or none at all). Why should you have to fake interest in theirs when they want you to participate? If you are questioned about it later, just state plainly that your personal beliefs are personal and you like to keep it that way. If they persist, change the subject or end the conversation. They may talk behind your back but to paraphrase, it’s better to let them assume you’re weird than speak and prove it.

    When you’re ready to make your feelings known, then you can do it on your time and on your grounds.

    I once lied to a small group that started a meeting with a prayer in which I didn’t participate. When asked why I told them that I believed that prayer is personal and when it’s said aloud for group participation then it’s no longer a private conversation between you and God but just showing off how devout you are to others. I don’t really condone lying but it shut up the nosy jerks and hopefully made them think twice about the next meeting that started with a prayer. That by participating, they aren’t as devout as they want themselves or others to believe.

  • jack

    Consider this strategy: Print out this post and the comments to it. Take the printout with you to your meetings. Remain seated when everyone else stands, etc. If anyone asks you about it, hand them the printout.

    Another variation: give the printout to the chairperson before the meeting, or mail it to him/her anonymously if you prefer. Include a note asking that the subject be openly discussed at the meeting. It could even be formally addressed as a question that can be put to a vote, something along these lines:

    Given that this organization and its purposes are secular, and that some attendess are not Christian and have expressed discomfort at our traditional opening prayer, should we discontinue the practice of having an opening prayer at our meetings?

    If done right, this could reframe the issue, not as an attempt to prohibit their free exercise of religion (which they can do as much as they want in their churches, at home, etc.), but as one of respect for the rights of minorities in their community during public and purely secular events.

    It all depends on how strongly you feel about it. Ebon’s advice, to just sit quietly and not participate in the rituals while everyone else does, seems right to me, and is what I normally do, in ambiguous situations like weddings and funerals in churches. Your situations seems less ambiguous, if the purpose of the meeting really is completely secular.

  • Antigone

    A little OT, but this post just brought up memories of my wedding.

    I got married to a loosely Lutheran man, and the bulk of our family is Christian. To keep the peace, we submitted to a generic Christian-type wedding, and I thought that was going to be the end of it. At the reception, I had NO intention of having a prayer (I even told the caterer that we were not going to do a prayer). His grandmother, without knowledge from either of us, decided to give a prayer which we were all expected to submit to. I’m still mad about this, and I have no idea how to deal with her (I have not confronted the grandmother about this). But I do find it funny that non-believers are supposed to submit to their practices, and they can’t respect our lack.

  • John

    I am sorry, but this article and its comments are, well, much ado about nothing. You should not be offended, but you should be amused at people praying to a nonexistant deity.


    “I’m still mad about this”

    Let me see if I have this right. You’re “still mad” because grandma gave “a prayer” at YOUR wedding. If that gets you mad, I hope your marriage lasts. Marriage is about letting go of ego. Take it from a happily married guy soon to celebrate our 40th anniversary. Please do not “confront” grandma; let it go. Ask yourself what her motive was.

  • heliobates

    @ John

    You should not be offended, but you should be amused at people praying to a nonexistant deity.

    reding komprehenshun. ur still doin it rong.

  • Brad

    John, I think most atheists are not so much directly offended by religion, or even mad about family members’ motivations and intentions, but rather are frustrated about the sheer depressing irrationality in it all, as well as the social pressure assumed on normal people to (at least minimally) abide by religious ideals. We are only truly offended in the sense that people aren’t open-minded enough to really treat us fairly and not assume religion as the ideal. When a family member, say, thinks we are possessed by Satan and his minion demons and wants to help us out, perhaps we can appreciate their desire for our betterment, but we certainly don’t appreciate their lack of sincere effort to understand us.

    In fact, most believers would think highly negatively of the idea of atheists being “amused” at their praying. They might just attribute it to the “ego” of atheists and think we are all scoffers. They would probably, and maybe even rightly, believe that we are not giving enough respect for their genuine and heartfelt intentions in prayer.

    (I’m inclined to agree with you, though, that standing up or not during prayers at big meetings isn’t a very substantial topic. Ebonmuse’s thoughts of making AtaA a series indicate he’s trying to write some more on a personal level than on bigger objectives.)

    Lastly, if Antigone’s wishes were explicit enough for there to be no extra religious features in her wedding, then she has every right to be mad at her grandma for going against those wishes. Even if those wishes weren’t known to her grandma, she could still be mad at the event itself.

  • Alex

    About ending meeting prayers:

    I think that the complete removal of the prayer can be as uncomfortable for people who feel the prayer to be meaningful as it`s uncomfortable for non-cristian people to begin the meeting with a prayer.

    So I think the best choice it`s to replace the prayer with a non-obligatory moment of silence, where religious people con pray if they feel it to be necessary. I think the petition would have more signatures also.

  • Polly

    I don’t think this is a big deal. I can think of far more uncomfortable situations that I have to put up with that make as little sense as invoking the aid of a magical, invisible reverse-zombie. But, it’s for work, so I do it. It doesn’t sound like they’re breaking any laws.

    I like Ceetar’s advice. It’s just the sort of passive-aggresive route I’d choose.

  • The Ridger

    Well, you could always just quote the bit about praying in a closet instead of in public.

  • barnetto

    I read the first line of Alex’s post “About ending meeting prayers:”
    And for a second there misread it. Before I read the whole thing I thought he was saying something about putting the prayer at the end of the meeting rather than at the beginning. Kind of along the lines of just arrive late to the meeting, except that you don’t have to worry if you can’t find a seat if these things tend to be packed. If its anything like my experience with catholic mass, you’ll probably see a lot of people jump ship before they do the prayer at the end so they can avoid the rush or they just don’t care.

    I don’t know if having it at the end makes any sort of logical sense (for believers) since the point seems to be invoking god’s help during the proceedings. But people are creative, they could figure something out.

  • Jim Coufal

    Many interesting suggestions. This is not another suggestion, but rather a warning. My son lived in a small coastal community in Alaska for several years. He had a successful weekly radio program on the local radio station. He was a member of the fire department and the search and rescue team. He personally bought i-pods for two local children who felt left out because all the other kids had them, He never hid his atheism, yet people welcomed him to parties, stopped to drink and jawbone with at the coffee station, and so on. He bought a house,

    The stuff hit the fan when he objected publically to the town erecting a large lighted cross (almost sounds KKK-like) on town land. He brought this to a town meeting and won, the cross came down, but at the same time he lost. He was ostrasized; no more coffee klatching, no more parties, people literally crossed the street to avoid him. Eventually, the town put the cross back up, with a thumb to is nose. After a few months of this, thinking things would return to normal, he moved.

    I think the point is obvious. One must be careful and willing to accept the consequences of their actions. Such things do happen in our constitutional democracy.

  • Jeff T.

    I consider this to be similar to playing golf to network with associates. Do I like golf, no? Do I go and pal around with people because they like it and it may benefit my career in some way, yes?

    Ebon has pointed out that Atheism is the only acceptable form of discrimination left in most of Western Society. I think I would advise to do what you have to do to benefit your career. Standing and bowing your head could be seen by you as a function of work. I would have no issues with this as long as it didn’t compromise my true core values or belief system. Heck, I might even suggest sending a prayer to FSM, he may reward you with a nice pasta brunch after the meeting.

    I believe it is more important to blend in socially rather than make a scene over something that has no significant moral meaning. I would look at it as committing a ridiculous act as part of the job.

  • Lynet

    John, the letter quoted above didn’t actually use the word ‘offended’. Rather, it used phrases like ‘not something I feel at all comfortable or happy about’ and ‘I resent feeling coerced’. I’m sorry that you are unable to sympathise with this. I can only assume that you have never been in a comparable situation where you felt to some degree socially obligated to do something that went against your principles. In a situation where said principles are unpopular and dangerous to make a big deal about, it’s quite natural to become frustrated by the small, repeated compromises.

    My advice to the letter writer:

    Whatever course of action you choose, bear in mind that although you feel coerced, it’s entirely probable that the other members of these meetings don’t feel like they are coercing you. You feel like there is conflict here, but they don’t know that yet, and your best chance of working through this smoothly is if it never feels like a conflict to them!

    This means that whatever you do, it’s to your advantage to minimise the tension and fuss. For example, if you choose to simply remain seated, do so calmly. Don’t feel ashamed. You’d be surprised by how easily people will believe body language that says “this is unobtrusive and perfectly normal”. Similarly, if you feel the need to try to stop the process altogether, it’s probably best to write a polite letter which explains openly and honestly that you feel uncomfortable, but quietly leaves out the fact that you also feel annoyed (since that could seem like an accusation, and you want to produce a sympathetic reaction rather than a defensive one).

    My own choice of action would be to simply remain seated and act as if I didn’t expect to be challenged. In the event that I did have to explain myself, I would do so honestly in a normal tone of voice and expect there to be no conflict. As long as you’re not asking people to think that they are doing something wrong, there’s a high probability that if you don’t ruffle things, others will also prefer not to.

    There is, of course, an argument to be made that my suggested course of action is too meek for someone with the law and a moral reason on their side. Certainly, I would support an atheist who chose a stronger course of action. However, making people change when they don’t necessarily understand that there was an issue that needed to be addressed is a nice way to maximise the risk that the result will be polarization (with perhaps only you on one of those poles!) rather than societal shift. By contrast, choosing to remain seated makes your views known and therefore serves as a sort of ‘consciousness-raising’. It’s only a small step, but I think it’s more likely to go in the right direction.

  • John


    Would your son have been less perturbed if perhaps somebody bought a corner of the “town property,” and then placed “a large lighted cross” there.

    Our “founding fathers” must be rolling in their graves at the discourse taking place in America.

  • Antigone


    You’re concern trolling about my marriage is not appreciated. You’re marriage might be “letting go of ego”, but really had nothing to do with mine, now did it? It wasn’t my husband who wanted to pray, it was his grandma: who was (and is) aware that I’m NOT religious.

    Also, the founding fathers were on a spectrum of religious beliefs, from Catholic to deist. But they all put in the right to religious freedom in the Constitution, and it was Jefferson who coined the phrase “a wall of separation of church and state”. They’re probably just fine in their graves about this. Of course, since the original letter-writer was Canadian, that bit is particularly off-topic.

    At times, one may have to keep their mouth shut to “keep the peace”. But, that doesn’t mean that some of these strategies might work.

  • OMGF

    It very well may be true that the founding fathers are rolling in their graves contemplating the link that you posted. Did you honestly think that that was a good argument or something?

  • Polly


    At church there was a certain point at which the pastor made this long prayer. About half the congregation would stand at this point, but the other half remained seated. And wouldn’t you know it, I had to be among people – my FIL, mother and wife – who stand. I always wondered what would happen if I simply chose to remain seated? And, why didn’t those other people have to stand? I mean, who the HELL do they think they ARE?!? I wanna sit too dammit!

    Anyway, it seems like I’m the only one who thought this odd. It was odd because it was the only point of divergence, like there was some denominational thing – the sittertarians vs. the standertarians. Then, everything would quickly get back into sync afterwards.

    So, no one will probably notice if you sit unless they’re obsessed with minutiae.

  • Mackrelmint

    Hi everyone, I’m the one that wrote the email. Thanks to you all and most especially to Ebon for posting my query, offering some sound advice and opening up the floor to the rest of you. You’ve all made some great suggestions and if anyone else has more to say, I’m game to hear it.

    I’ve not decided what to do yet but after considering everyone’s comments so far, am considering speaking to the person who chairs the meetings for my organization and explaining my perspective. If I decide to remain sitting, I would like him to be aware that I’m not meaning to insult anyone present. I don’t think that I have a chance at stopping the prayers. (Yes, I think it would create a scene if I asked for that to happen.) I don’t intend to ask for them to stop as I don’t want to impose in a way that as AnonaMiss aptly put it, may be seen to be imposing on this First Nation’s sovereignty: it’s the coercive way in which the prayers are presented that I most protest and so I may simply ask for the prayers to be initiated with an “IF YOU’D LIKE to stand with us to pray, please feel free to do so now” instead of the commanding “Please stand now for the opening/closing blessing”. This gives myself and others the invited option to remain sitting and acknowledges that some may not wish to but also allows the rest to stand if they so choose.

    Or, I could not rock the boat and wave at HP across the room!

    As I said initially, this isn’t a huge deal. However, it is one of the many small things that can add up to nonbelievers feeling unwelcome, excluded and unnecessarily separated from others in the public sphere. This is sort of the reason that I wrote: how often should we simply be polite and not make a big deal when not speaking out makes us completely invisible, leading to people saying that atheists don’t exist or simply not knowing that there are other nonbelievers out there for support.

    Thanks again. I’ve enjoyed the comments.

  • Ebonmuse

    John, this thread is to offer advice to the commenter who originally wrote me this e-mail. If you don’t have any further advice to offer, then please butt out.

    Mackrelmint: Thanks for coming by! I sincerely hope this helped. I think your decision is a good one – it expresses your feelings without doing so in a way that people may perceive as hostile or confrontational. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you’ll come back and let us know how it works out.

  • Eric


    Yes, I would have been less perturbed had that large, offensive lighted cross been placed on private property. I even suggested it be moved to private property if they felt that strongly about it. I am a huge perveyor of personal freedoms and property rights. If you want to toss up an idiotic cross in your own yard, have at it, but the SECOND it goes up on public land, it is an illegal and unconsitutional act. I paid the price for speaking out. I literally was run out of MY TOWN. By “Loving and caring christians”, ones who I had shoveled snow for when they couldn’t, ones I had done charitable work for when they needed help, ones that I thought believed in “forgiveness”. Well, it has been shown to me, FIRST HAND, that christians tend to be one hypocritical lot.

    Would I do it all again? I don’t want to lie, because of the horrid backlash I encountered, I don’t think I would. I had to MOVE to a new town. Starting over is brutally hard. And I lost many people that I thought were friends as a result of taking a stand. A stand that protects YOUR freedoms and mine by fighting against consitutional infractions. But I am human and I need socialness like any of us, and to lose what I lost makes me feel like maybe I don’t have true integrity because I fear the repercussions. I can only imagine what mixed race couples felt like in Alabama in the 50′s, or same-sex couples now. Truly, atheists are among the last groups where discrimination is not only present against us, it is encouraged.

  • Lirone

    I like the idea above of suggesting the meeting starts with a moment of silence. Another thing that you might consider is to arrange with the leaders for you to get up and say something secular that encourages people to focus on the purpose of the meeting. Say a poem or quote from a speech, perhaps in particular one that was relevant to the organisation.

    Depending on the context, this might not work at all. But it might be a way of sending the message that your non-participation in the prayer in no way undermines your commitment to the success of the work of the group.

  • Virginia

    The thing has to be dealt with due consideration of the culture. We still have entrenched ideas about “respecting other’s religion”, and in some society we the peer pressure is more intense.

    In Chinese society (yes, I am Chinese), “assertiveness” is not often well received. We have a proverb — follow the “custom” when you enter a village.

    In a Christian gathering, even non-Christians will bow their head and close their eyes — for it is quite offending to many people that you have your eyes open and not standing.

    Even non-Christian adults will disagree if their children choose to NOT participate in prayer by remaining seated because it will be seen as impolite and disrespective of the host of the event.

    If the person’s society and culture is different, the approach has to be adjusted.

    For me, if I was invited, I will let the host know that I am an atheist and I will not participate in prayers or other religious rituals, and others will see it — at least I had the host’s acknowledgement.

    It’s more difficult in schools founded by Christian missionaries here — many students attending the schools are non-Christians but are required to attend morning assembly with prayers, short homilies and hymn singing — I have yet to find a way to convince parents of these children to express their position in an assertive manner.

  • Eric


    I agree with much of what you said, however, we are talking about the injustice of the culture itself being a “christian culture.” It should not be so, so by we atheists simply genuflecting and bowing our heads in “prayer” along with them we are being forced to concede a de facto culture. We are, by our indirect actions, saying “it is okay to believe crazy,” or “humanity forbid we dare to use our intellect.”

    We are not visitors to Ancient Greece or Ulan Baator trying to adapt or adopt crazy beliefs and worship, we are a part of a culture we seeks to persecute us for daring not to believe in fairy tales.

  • Virginia


    I fully concur about your point on the injustice of the culture itself being a “christian culture” — it is disturbing to me too when many of my peers don’t regard genuflecting and bowing our heads in “prayer” along with them as a concession. I only want all of us to know atheists at different places face pressure of different degree.
    I as an adult has the internal resource and strength to stand up against the pressuers, but not necessarily younger children. I sure will like to see more improvement in future — but now here at where I live I don’t have that kind of atheist / humanist community support which can allow us atheist to be heard, and thet people dare to speak up against such absurdity and injustice — amidst the complicated cultural background here.

  • Virginia

    About school prayers — the city I lived in (Hong Kong) was origninally a British colony — as a result many high schools and elementary schools were found by Chritian missionaries. The denominations and church here (Anglican/Epicospal, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Baptists) have a special board in managing the schools attached to them (some established the schools for over a century).
    These schools are considered “elite” schools, heavily sought after by parents. Chinese parents are very very concerned about their children’s study, and don’t really care if their non-Christian children attend a Christian school and be required to attend Christian gatherings, events that involves praying.
    Chinese are the type that tends to value relationship above many things — not many see being non-Christians and genuflecting and bowing heads in “prayer” along with Chritians as being “concession” or those being imposed on their children as being “injustice”.
    That creates difficulties for atheist or non-Chritians who don’t want to concede — I have to turn around a culture among non-Christians first — anyone has good ideas of where I can start ?