AP Must Stand for Annoying Prayers…

Over the past couple weeks, many students at my high school (and others across the country) took their Advanced Placement exams. Because they need absolutely silence — and because we don’t have enough space for all our students to take the more popular tests in a quiet environment — they took certain exams in other locations. One was a local church. I don’t see that as a church/state violation. It’s a rented area that provides both space and silence. I’ve been there for other district events and it’s no big deal. The pastors are pretty good about making sure there’s no proselytizing going on when we’re there.

It’s a different story in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

For the same reasons as my district, Parkview High School held their AP tests at nearby Mountain Park First Baptist church, citing “space and crowding issues.” Nothing wrong with that.

But parents Kerry Kavanaugh and Traci Morris explain what happened when their kids went there to take their tests:

Kavanaugh was in the church parking lot Wednesday as Parkview High School students arrived for their AP tests and were approached by church members for a moment of prayer.

“You’re violating these children’s rights,” said Parkview High School parent Traci Morris.

She said the violation happened twice when her son was offered prayer before his Advanced Placement exams being held at Lilburn’s Mountain Park First Baptist. Morris is a practicing Buddhist.

“I will have to say I was livid because it was a school function, I was not prepared for something like that to happen,” Morris said.

It wasn’t some “generic,” non-denominational prayer, either. It was specifically one “in Jesus’ name,” as you can see in this video. (So take that, Jewish kids.)

At least the pastor apologized on behalf of his congregation, right?

Of course not.

“We never thought that would be an issue. We thought being able to help anybody particularly on a testing [day] would be helpful to them,” said church pastor Richard King.

So I’m sure King would be perfectly fine with someone telling his children, “Jesus isn’t gonna help you. Hope you studied!” moments before they take their AP tests…?

The church members’ prayers aren’t going to help kids improve their scores. If anything, a number of students just had another distraction on a morning they shouldn’t have to deal with any.

A district spokesperson told Kavanaugh she would contact the church again to put a stop to all this…

However on Thursday a student reported to Kavanaugh again that volunteers approached him in the parking lot, and it did not appear any changes had been made.

(via Religion Clause)

  • frank

    I don’t understand how they could lack space to administer the tests in a school. If there are classrooms in which students are taught the rest of the year, why can’t the tests be administered there? Add to that cafeterias, libraries, gyms, how can a school not have space to administer a test?

  • ellie

    @Frank
    AP exams are different. You have to be isolated so that you can make sure that the test is run properly: no distractions, no interruptions. Its kind of like the ACT in that way, they have to be done within a certain set of hours so that answers cannot be spread around. I went to a pretty small school but they still had trouble finding space for, sometimes, close to 50 students to take the test. Some schools just done have a space large enough that wont be bothered by other activities, especially when there are a lot of students trying to take some of the more popular tests.

  • Emma

    I actually went to Gwinnett County schools and took several AP tests. When I was there (graduated 5 years ago), all the students from the entire county took the AP tests at the county civic center. Unfortunately it’s one of the fastest growing counties in the country, and it seems they’re running out of room. I am upset about what has been happening, especially since the Gwinnett County schools is where I first met other atheists, and they helped me be true to myself and admit my own atheism. I hope that this incidence causes the school system to choose their testing locations more carefully.

  • Kay

    @Frank AP Tests are different. They’re standardized across the country and when I took mine in high school, they were VERY strict. If you even checked your cell phone at all during a break when you were outside the room, you would be removed from the exam. I think we weren’t even allowed to have water bottles, just a pencil. There has to be a special proctor in place, they can only proctor so many students, the exam books have seals, etc., and they have to be administered at specific times (for example, maybe the first Day of testing from 8-12 is Chemistry, that means everyone in the country who takes AP Chemistry must take the exam at that time). All that coordinating, especially at a medium to large sized high school could cause some disorganization and overflow.

  • Cassie

    I don’t suppose it’s occurred to these people that even devout Christian students might not appreciate some random stranger getting in their face when they’re about to take an important test?

  • Someone You Know

    The thing to ask someone like Richard King here is:

    Would you be okay with it if your children were taking the test in a mosque, and were offered a Muslim prayer before the test began?

    Hopefully this would get him to at least think about the situation from the opposite perspective.

  • frank

    Isn’t there a broader issue here than the religion? The school (I hope) would not let random adults just come on to school property and start talking to students. If they are renting the church, why is it any different there? Don’t they have the same right and duty to control access to a building they are renting and putting students in as they do to a building they own and are putting students in?

  • frizzlefrazzle

    As someone born and raised nearby (North Fulton), all I can say is: what the hell?

    “We thought being able to help anybody particularly on a testing [day] would be helpful to them,” said church pastor Richard King.

    How does prayer help someone before taking an AP exam? What do these morons think, that prayer does something?

    Seriously though, this does not surprise me. I’m looking forward to returning to GA in two weeks to watch my nephew (valedictorian and atheist) graduate from high school. I will be shocked if I don’t witness some BS praying going on. In fact, I’ve already told my brother, that I might sit away from them, just in case I need to object.

  • Drakk

    Oh how I would love the irony if one of those exams was AP biology/included an evolution module.

  • MaryD

    If something is offered to you in kindness and you don’t want it just say “no, thank you”. It costs you nothing. The offer isn’t a violation of your ‘rights’.

    If you look for offence you will find it and you will feel bad and you will be the loser. A little courtesy has the power to grow and you with it.

  • Tyris

    @MaryD, I agree with you. Its a violation of rights for a teacher to coerce a student into praying, but a person not on the time or payroll of the public school system merely offering to share a prayer is not violating anyones rights.

    But I also agree with Frank; why the hell wasn’t “No adults are to come onto this property and approach our students while we are paying for this space” a stipulation of the rental agreement? This is a very basic safety issue; Random adults should NOT be approaching children on (even temporary)school property.

  • Stephen P

    I used to hate doing exams in a quiet environment. It meant that every cough, every scrape of a moved chair was distracting. I much preferred locations with a steady rumble of background noise.

  • MV

    MaryD:

    You have a strange definition of kindness. Forcing your beliefs on others is not kindness. It’s being rude, among other things. True kindness and courtesy would dictate keeping your beliefs to yourself.

    As the AP tests are a school function, GIVING a prayer is also a violation of the law. If you want to wish students well, then go for it. No deity required. It won’t offend anyone or break the law.

  • blacksheep

    Violation of “rights?” because someone asked if they wanted to pray in a church? That’s like asking someone if they want an apple when they’re taking a test in your orchard. If you don’t want one, just say no thanks.

    you can ban prayer in schools, but not in Churches!

  • http://tangenttalk.blogspot.com Rob

    @blacksheep – I’m not crazy about the public schools having events in churches because of this exact problem. Our local schools do it for space and I’m sure the local churches see it as an opportunity to proselytize.

    Shall we have it at a mosque next time? I guarantee that the Christian families wouldn’t complain one bit!

  • ACN

    you can ban prayer in schools, but not in Churches!

    Everytime someone claims that prayer is banned in school, a kitten dies.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    MaryD and Blacksheep,

    What if there was available space in executive offices in a local slaughter-house. Would it be appropriate for the slaughter-house employees to show pictures of animals being slaughtered to the kids just because they are taking a test in a slaughter-house?

    What about if there was available space in the executive offices at a local film studio that did adult movies. Would it be appropriate for the employees at the film studio to show pictures of adult actors in the act to the kids just because they were taking the test at the studio?

    How are these example different than church members proselytizing the kids? The kids are there to take a test. Not to get distracted (and potentially bothered) by what goes on at the place where they are taking the test.

  • blacksheep

    Rob,

    If it were at a mosque, and the imam(?) asked me if I wanted to pray, I don’t think I would be offended. I would say no thanks. (Or maybe I would pray with him, actually).

    I certainly wouldn’t refer to it as “proselytizing.”

    I think part of it is simply people playing their roles. if a soldier sat outside the chaplains tent, the chaplain might ask if there’s anything she wants to speak about, maybe pray about.
    She might say “No thanks padre” but would not be offended – even if she were an atheist.

  • blacksheep

    What if there was available space in executive offices in a local slaughter-house. Would it be appropriate for the slaughter-house employees to show pictures of animals being slaughtered to the kids just because they are taking a test in a slaughter-house?

    Of course not. But if it were a guitar factory it would make total sense for the employees to offer to show the kids how a guitar is made.

    What about if there was available space in the executive offices at a local film studio that did adult movies. Would it be appropriate for the employees at the film studio to show pictures of adult actors in the act to the kids just because they were taking the test at the studio?

    I’m not sure how atheist parents would feel about that but I assume it would be in the same ballpark as I do. Silly analogy.

    Have you ever prayed with someone when it’s not “proselytizing”? I have prayed with people of different faiths all over the world. never once was it proselytizing. (The dreaded “P Word” on the friendly Atheist!)

  • http://defendingreason.wordpress.com Ben

    To add to what JeffP said: what if the test was on school grounds and some of the volunteers were Christians running around offering prayers to everybody? A building rented by a public entity (e.g. A school) should be treated exactly as if it was property owned by the public. I wouldn’t accept it on school grounds so I don’t accept it on grounds rented by the school.

  • frank

    Blacksheep,

    You seem to be making the (hopefully) erronious assumption that the school is a guest in the church. A public school should never ever enter into a host/guest relationship with a church for precisely this reason. Whenever one uses the others space, the relationship between a public school and a church should be one of landlord and tenant. That means that when a church rents a school auditorium on a Sunday morning, that auditorium ceases to be a public facility and instead becomes a religious house of worship for those few hours. Similarly, when a public school rents a church building, that building ceases to be a church, and instead becomes an extension of the school, with all that that entails. Those students were not entering a church, they were entering a school. The members of the church have no more right to enter the building during the hours that the school has leased it than a landlord does to enter a tenants private apartment (i.e. almost none). If that is not acceptable to the church members, then they should never have rented the building to the school in the first place.

  • blacksheep

    Everytime someone claims that prayer is banned in school, a kitten dies.

    Damn. I like kittens.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I hate to say it, but this is a perfect example of why many (most?) evangelicals cannot be trusted to respect the separation of church and state. Their sole purpose is to be, well, evangelical about their religion. I’d love to be proven wrong, but every time something like this happens, it’s an evangelical group that’s causing the trouble. Not Catholics, not Greek or Eastern Orthodox, not Mormons, not even mainline Protestants.

    If a school must rent space from a religious institution, I would prefer that it rent the space from a Catholic church or Jewish temple, someplace a parent can be virtually guaranteed that there aren’t “volunteers” running around asking to pray with children who are not members of their religion and who are only there for educational purposes.

  • http://millenniallemons.com Jeremiah Wood

    That’s actually where my high school is (not Parkview though)and I grew up in that area. It is one of the most WASPy and Republican areas in the country, so it does not surprise me that this happened.

    I second @emma towards the top of the comments. Though this area is quite WASPy and Red, it is still one of the best school districts in the country with brilliant teachers. I doubt this infraction will stand.

  • ACN

    Damn. I like kittens.

    Yeah. I do too. Maybe you should stop saying intentionally incorrect things about prayer and schools.

    Jeff P, Frank, and Ben are on point here.

  • allison

    The church members’ prayers aren’t going to help kids improve their scores. If anything, a number of students just had another distraction on a morning they shouldn’t have to deal with any.

    ^^ This here. The AP tests are set in a very controlled environment partly to help the students concentrate. While I’m not sure that I would’ve been offended per se, I would’ve been distracted, and not in a good way. Because of the way religious students and teachers at my school tended to treat things, I would have been upset at being put in that situation right before a test.

    Generally Gwinnett County schools have some sense, so I’m not sure that they’ll take this lying down.

    MaryD and blacksheep, while I understand that these are church people doing what they consider to be their jobs, there’s a reason they’re not supposed to be doing their job in a public school setting. Despite the fact that this was in the church building, if it’s school time and the students don’t really have a choice it’s supposed to be free of even implied pressure from authorities for those students to participate in prayer. Saying no to such a request does not only have the possibility of seeming impolite to the one making the offer, making the student feel awkward, but in a conservative area there is also the very real possibility of classmates noting the refusal of the request and making life very, very difficult later on. I grew up in a community where evangelicals shunned and bullied non-religious students. Please take my word for it when I say that refusing a prayer request is often not as simple as it seems on its face. This is even true when the person offering the prayer means no harm. When I refused a prayer publicly it was usually followed by “payback” later and I would have spent a good portion of the test worrying about what would happen to me later in the day or the week.

    These kids aren’t hanging around outside the chaplain’s tent kind of looking like they want to talk. They’re there to take a test and this is where the school is requiring them to be to take it. That is a very different situation, and is one where the offer of prayer is an intrusion.

  • http://tangenttalk.blogspot.com Rob

    If it were at a mosque, and the imam(?) asked me if I wanted to pray, I don’t think I would be offended. I would say no thanks. (Or maybe I would pray with him, actually).

    blacksheep – you miss the point. They didn’t sign up to go to a church. The signed up for an AP test at a public high school where there is a clear separation of church and state.

    Read what Frank said.

  • Matt H

    Allison nailed this in my opinion. A big part of the problem is the extreme social pressure to conform and reprisal from others for being “outted” as someone who “hates Jesus”.

  • mboyper

    I use to go to Fulton county schools and ,regardless of the fact that state and school should be separated,on a day of a mandatory exam not only i would actually be offended, but if it were even a Muslim volunteer — i am Muslim — trying to offer me a pray, i would punch them in the face. To present any type of religious, political, or any other biased idea before such a stressful time shows negligence and lack of empathy by the third party– who ever it might be.

  • Demonhype

    @Matt H:

    And that is also a major distraction, made much larger for non-believing students. Either they pray, and get to be distracted by feeling like a coward or sellout just moments before taking a major test, or they refuse and get to be distracted during the test as they worry about whether they’re going to be persecuted for that refusal later on.

    I love how the religiosos always seem to think it’s just an easy matter in this country to refuse to pray to Jebus, and that the unbelieving or non-Christian student will not be targeted for such refusal. I also love how generous they can be in a hypothetical they know they’ll never have to make good on. They’d raise up a shitstorm if their kids even had to take the test in a mosque, much less have Muslim volunteers running up to them and pressuring them to pray to Allah before a test–but since they know they’ll never be in that situation, they can pretend they’d be all “oh, no thank you” and get on with their lives. My mom pulled that shit on me once, and once I was done with her she never pulled it again.

    In her case, it was outright public-school-based religious indoctrination, and she claimed that “if” the Muslims were a majority she’d have no problem with her kids being indoctrinated with Islamic beliefs in a mandatory public school setting. I laid out a few major tenets of Islam–such as “anyone who believes that Jesus was God or the Son of God or anything more than a simple prophet among other prophets will burn in hell” and pointed out exactly how she’d react if I skipped home and started saying those things. She pouted and sulked in silence (which usually means she’s done and she knows it) and never ever brought up that baloney again.

    You wouldn’t mind if Muslims were encroaching on church-state separation? You’re a fucking liar.

  • DR

    Matt 6:5-6… The most ignored verse in the whole Bible, and the one which defines “Christian prayer”: silent and private. Too bad it’s just too inconvenient for all those so-called “Bible-believing Christians”.

  • Larry Meredith

    wait… I’m confused. You think it’s okay to use the church for public school issues if there’s no proselytizing? Then what about the Cherokee County School District’s Graduation in Church?

  • Blacksheep

    Yeah. I do too. Maybe you should stop saying intentionally incorrect things about prayer and schools.

    I’ve never said anything intentionally incorrect. Are you on purpose being a bit rude?

  • ACN

    I’m intentionally being a bit snarky because no one has banned prayer in public schools.
    What has been banned is school-sponsored prayer.

    The difference between the two is the difference between thoughtcrime and secularism. This difference is often intentionally ignored, mostly by christians who try to create an impression that their beliefs are persecuted by the government.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Blacksheep, you said

    you can ban prayer in schools, but not in Churches!

    Prayer is NOT banned in schools. Any kid can bend their head over their exam or lunch & pray. School’s cannot organize or lead prayer; this would be an official state sanction of religion and unconstitutional. This not so subtle legal point is so often ignored by xtians who want to promote “persecution hysteria”.
    IMO, if one is discussing a topic like this, one should educate oneself on the facts. If people don’t have the facts, their opinion is uninformed & worthless. If they do have the facts and continually choose to misrepresent them, they are liars.
    I don’t doubt you knew this but just misspoke while shooting off a quick post…..

    But I am not sure how to point out that someone is wrong (& the xtians who repeatedly say this refuse to acknowledge they are wrong and change their spiel), without being rude.

  • Scout

    Did you see the poll on the story site? If you don’t read it carefully, you could just click on “No” because you think it says “Do you think it’s appropriate for prayer…” whereas it actually says “Do you think it’s inappropriate for prayer to be offered…” Tricky pollster!

  • allison

    blacksheep said

    I’ve never said anything intentionally incorrect.

    Though you may not have been intentionally incorrect, you were definitely incorrect wen you said that prayer is banned from schools. Any student who wants to pray to him/herself before a test, for example, can do so. Students are allowed to pray during “down time” (before or after a task such as an exam, between classes, during lunch, etc) as long as they are not disruptive about it. In fact, doing so is legally protected. Even during lunch if a group of students wants to hold hands and say grace before eating or something with one person leading, that’s perfectly fine. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that high school students may form clubs that meet during non-instructional time to pray, study their own religious texts, etc, if other non-curricular student groups are allowed to meet.

    What’s not allowed is anything with the appearance of endorsement so, for example, a student leading a prayer over the PA system before or during a football game would be out of line, as would having a student lead a prayer in the classroom. A public school team coach cannot lead a team in prayer but if a group of students on the team decides to get together and pray before the game, legally that’s okay as far as I know.

    If you want, I could find some more in-depth information that would assist you in determining where the line is between prayer that’s legally protected in the public schools and prayer that is not allowed in the public schools.

  • Blacksheep

    Any student who wants to pray to him/herself before a test, for example, can do so.

    It’s quite scary to me that this particular part would need to be clarified or even mentioned.

    Hopefully the thought police will not ban us from thinking what we want.

    We just need to be careful not to say it out loud, unless under specific circumstances (which you are happy to outline for me).

  • Marjorie

    I go to another Gwinnett County public school, and we also take our AP tests in a church. The line between church and state does get blurry around here (my school even holds awards ceremonies in the church), but we’ve never had problems like this. Administering the AP tests at a church does have one advantage – my school district is an hour away from the civics center where the tests were held, and some students couldn’t find transportation to or from the civics center.

    @Drakk – I took the AP Biology test just a few days ago, and one of the free-response sections did include a question about evolution :)

  • ACN

    Are on purpose being a bit rude?

    Allison has been nothing but courteous to you, and carefully explained an issue that you, intentionally or not, were misrepresenting.

  • allison

    It’s quite scary to me that this particular part would need to be clarified or even mentioned.

    Hopefully the thought police will not ban us from thinking what we want.

    We just need to be careful not to say it out loud, unless under specific circumstances (which you are happy to outline for me).

    Well, “to yourself” can also be out loud. Just not loud enough to be disruptive. If everyone’s supposed to be silent, then of course you’re supposed to be silent as well. Basically, students are allowed to pray any time class schedules permit, which makes sense because students are supposed to spend at least some of their time at school on designated tasks at hand. If you’re in the middle of a test, for example, praying out loud is obviously inappropriate.

    This sort of thing ends up getting clarified precisely because there are people on both sides who will mistake the “endorsement is not allowed” as a ban on prayer in school as you were describing. As I mentioned, there really is not such a ban in place. I had hoped that you might see this as good news rather than as cause for complaining about the legal system trying to enforce thought control. These regulations also give quite a bit of freedom to those who are religious. If, for example, you’re in a Catholic community and don’t want people reciting the rosary over you or having your child use the saints as intermediaries, you’re likely to see these laws as a good thing.

    At any rate, if you’re interested you might find Americans United’s brochure on prayer in schools to be interesting reading. Please note that they list a rather wide variety of faith groups supporting the First Amendment position.

    Students have great leeway in their religious rights when in the public schools, something I’m quite happy about. I can tell you that my children’s classmates feel quite comfortable praying over lunch, talking about their religious views during times that they’re allowed to be social, and so on. My classmates felt similarly comfortable with expressing their religious views.

    I do find it sad that some people are inconsiderate enough of others’ views to make it necessary to define a line in the sand as far as endorsement issues are concerned. It’s incredibly presumptuous to think it’s appropriate to offer a prayer in the name of all those attending when you don’t know that all those people share your religious views, and it shows a terrible lack of consideration for the feelings and views of others. I absolutely find it regrettable that religious people feel it appropriate to socially and physically punish those who decline a prayer request, but it is my experience that such retribution is not rare.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Blacksheep says “Hopefully the thought police will not ban us from thinking what we want.”

    It is interesting that you said that considering that as a Christian you worship the ultimate thought policeman (Jesus) who supposedly sends people to heaven or hell depending on their thoughts. I guess to you the concept of “thought police” is only bad if you don’t agree with the thought police. The better stance would be to be against the thought police even if you agree with (or would benefit from) the thought police.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    How irritating. Next time the school should use a different building so as to avoid the crazy people bothering them.

  • Courtney

    I hope that students who may have been upset by being approached will consider contacting the College Board to report the unusual testing circumstances in the testing center. Really, this is something that proctors and other folks running the test site should have done.


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