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Blackwell calls for hearings on school prayer

By Celeste Lavin on Mar 3, 2011 07:30 PM

City Council member Jannie Blackwell, (D-3rd District) wants Council to hold hearings on prayer in public schools.

She has introduced a one-page resolution saying that “schools should respect the right of students to engage in religious activity and discussion” and calling prayer a way to “promote more virtuous living [that] may have a positive impact on student behavior in schools.”

A spokesperson for Blackwell, Anjali Chainani, said Blackwell has “had numerous calls from [senior citizens] almost every day telling her she needs to do something” about prayer in schools, “so she is responding to their concerns.”

Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, students can exercise their religious freedoms in schools, but organized prayer is prohibited. Blackwell’s resolution says that “encouraging students to not only pray for themselves but to pray for others can cause students to think more of their follow classmates then [sic] of themselves, to lead lives of thankfulness.”

Chainani said that while Blackwell’s elderly constituents clearly wanted the council member to encourage prayer in schools, “because of the constitutional laws and all, she obviously can’t do that. All she can do is hold a hearing.” Blackwell's district covers parts of West and Southwest Philadelphia.

The Education Committee has to consider the resolution before hearings are scheduled, but “the hearings will happen,” said Chainani.

Coming on the heels of reports about widespread intergroup and intercultural conflict in schools, the resolution says that “exercising compassion and understanding when engaging with other faith communities is important to achieve harmony and right relationships with others including students, teachers, parents, school administration and community leaders.”

“We’re just going to hear the testimony from other people,” said Chainani. “It can be a controversial issue. It’s just for open discussion.”

Read the resolution below:

RESOLUTION

Calling on the City Council Committee on Education to hold hearings on Prayer in Philadelphia Public Schools.

 

Whereas, students are free to pray alone or in groups as long as the activity is not disruptive and does not infringe on the rights of others; and

Whereas, the First Amendment to the Constitution requires that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and

Whereas, students have the right to initiate religious activities with other students including prayer, religious forums or discussions and faith-based clubs; and

Whereas, schools should respect the right of students to engage in religious activity and discussion; and

Whereas, prayer can promote more virtuous living and may have a positive impact on student behavior in schools; and

Whereas, encouraging students to not only pray for themselves but to pray for others can cause students to think more of their follow classmates then of themselves, to lead lives of thankfulness; and

Whereas, exercising compassion and understanding when engaging with other faith communities is important to achieve harmony and right relationships with others including students, teachers, parents, school administration and community leaders; and

Whereas, the late Reverend Marguerite Handy, former Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives worked tirelessly to bring religious leaders of all faiths together for positive collaboration; and

Whereas, we support students who have an interest in their faith; and

Whereas, we encourage all students to use their faith in their daily living and when necessary to keep a positive attitude and give their best in school to ensure a bright future.

Whereas, now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Education Calls to Hold Hearings on Prayer in Philadelphia Public Schools.

Jannie L. Blackwell

 

Philadelphia City Council

 

3rd Council District

 

March 3, 2011

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Comments (17)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 7:09 pm

Oh, yeah, this is going to go well.

"“because of the constitutional laws and all"

Idiot.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 8:50 pm

Okay. Let me get this straight. Elderly people want to impose prayer in the schools. Way to be responsive, Councilwoman. So your last order of business was to ensure that West becomes a Promise Academy, and now you're on to prayer in schools. Way to go! What Blackwell needs to do is hold a hearing in which she's held accountable for accusing her constituents of having a conflict of interest and defending an indefensible leadership of our system and an indefensible principal at West Philly High. I guess she only respects her constituents over the age of 50. Get out younger voters, anyone?

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 9:31 pm

I'm nearly 50, a Blackwell constituent but I don't feel respected by Blackwell. That said, I don't plan on feeling "elderly" at 50!

Blackwell is pandering - which many politicians do - rather than deal with more substantive issues. I agree Blackwell pushed the dominoes that crushed West Philly HS. I doubt she will ever recognize how destructive she can be so maybe we should lift her "up in prayer" and ask that she repent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 8:09 pm

I'm so disgusted with the elected people of this city that think they are smarter than us. Disgusting. This woman is an idiot.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 3, 2011 11:03 pm

This is a distraction from what is really going on. If Congresswoman Blackwell thinks that this will make people forget the way she has sold out the community at West Philly HS, she is wrong.

Submitted by Luke (not verified) on March 4, 2011 12:07 am

I applaud her for this. Religion is where many learn morals. For those who believe, prayer is a powerful change agent. For those who do not, it can only help improve morale, behavior, etc. Yes, she has made plenty of mistakes. This is something positive, however, and we should embrace this even if we do not embrace her.

Submitted by jlh1217 (not verified) on March 16, 2011 1:55 pm

"For those who do not, [prayer] can only help improve morale, behavior, etc,"

I completely disagree. I'm an atheist, I'm proud to be atheist and will NEVER be anything but atheist. Yet I considered myself to be an upstanding citizen with high morals and very ethical beliefs and behavior. Your statement is not only false, but offensive to non-religious people. I do not get my sense of ethics from prayer or anything associated with religion. It comes from my respect of human beings and life in general and for you to claim that prayer will help improve my "behavior" is ridiculous. I'm sure its a sense of comfort to those that are religious and actually believe that it works, but NOT ALL OF US BELIEVE THAT IT DOES. This congresswoman should not be applauded for forcing non-believers to take part in something they think is hogwash. She should be booted out of office.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on March 16, 2011 1:25 pm

Exactly right. I am a religious person, but as a believer in our constitution, I absolutely agree with you. You aha a right to be an atheist--and I think we can all agree that religious people certainly do not have a corner on doing right in this world. Blackwell needs to worry about school funding and curricula, not prayer in schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2011 2:58 pm

If you read, I said most. I understand that not everyone gets their morals from religion. She isn't advocating forcing everyone to pray. That would be ridiculous. Those who want to should be allowed. Those who believe without doubt that prayer throughout the day keeps them connected to and strengthened by God should be allowed to do just that. Those who do not give a hoot about prayer can go on doing whatever it is they were doing. I come to work an hour early to pray over the classroom. not everyone has this opportunity. Some teachers even anoint desks with oil or holy water. I would never force everyone to do these things. However, giving those who pray an opportunity to do so together would hold them accountable for those things their religion stands for.

This is not about forcing religion on people or ostracizing non believers. It is just allowing believers the opportunity to follow their beliefs.

By the way, calling prayer hogwash is offensive.

I would love the opportunity to share in my beliefs through prayer with other likeminded staff and students.

Submitted by Mike (not verified) on March 16, 2011 2:55 pm

"This is not about forcing religion on people or ostracizing non believers. It is just allowing believers the opportunity to follow their beliefs.

By the way, calling prayer hogwash is offensive."

They already can follow their beliefs - ON THEIR OWN TIME. A resolution by a school board claiming religious students are more virtuous than non-religious?
What else could it be but a government body 'respecting an establishment of religion'. Total violation of the UC Constitution.

How would you feel about a resolution calling prayer 'hogwash'? It would only be giving the nonreligious an opportunity to follow their beliefs, dont you think?

Submitted by jlh1217 (not verified) on March 17, 2011 10:45 pm

No, if YOU read, you did not say "most," you said: "For those who do not, it can only help improve morale, behavior, etc." That is implying that we non-believers must use something we don't believe in to become better people, as if we are heathens and need the “guidance” of talking to something WE think is non-existant in order to live an upstanding life. Why would I do something (prayer) or pray to someone I don't believe in (god) to try and be a better person? That is ridiculous. Not all non-believers are moral, upstanding people, and not all religious people are either.

And your statement “By the way, calling prayer hogwash is offensive,” is also ridiculous. As a teacher (english teacher or not) you should have realized I did not call prayer hogwash. I said, “This congresswoman should not be applauded for forcing non-believers to take part in something they think is hogwash.” I did not call prayer hogwash, I said SOME people believe it is. I personally believe in the “power of prayer,” although from a FACT-based, scientific mind, I realize that the “power of prayer” is actually the amazing and complex human brain at work. We have the ability to believe in something so strongly, that we envision/bring to life what we have been hoping/praying for. My mother is very religious and 2 years ago she lost her brother, father, aunt, and cousin all within 4 months of each other. I know that she was only able to get through that terrible time because of her belief in god, and what she believed prayer was doing for her.

I know this may be hard for you to believe, but I honestly have no problem with people praying in school (SILENTLY TO THEMSELVES) or creating a religious group (OUTSIDE OF CLASS TIME).
I honestly think its great that you are dedicated enough to go in an hour early and pray over your students desks because you think it helps you in teaching. I respect your care and dedication. But to designate a school-wide “prayer” time, is not only unfair, it's also unconstitutional: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As a teacher, you should understand that it means there is NO NATIONAL RELIGION, and all religions should be allowed and tolerated.

If every religion is constitutionally protected and allowed (AS IT SHOULD BE), why were my friends not allowed to create a Wiccan group in highschool, but the Fellowship of christian Athletes was allowed AND promoted? If every religion...not just christianity.... was treated as the constitution states, they would have been allowed to create a group outside of class time to come together and worship/pray to whatever they believe in. If every religion was given EQUAL RESPECT and treated the same, religions other than christianity and non-religious people would have no problem with a “moment of silence” during the morning announcements. But that's not the case. That's why we (non-christians) put up such a fight.

Submitted by James (not verified) on February 29, 2012 7:09 pm

Since, Luke, students can already pray as long as they are not disrupting class or compelling others to listen or participate then what do you think her resolution is going to accomplish? Why the need for forced school prayer if the students can already pray? Or are you interested in all the ones who will refuse to pray getting their asses kicked for being different?

Sorry, Luke, you really should bother to read Matthew 6:5-6. Jesus was rather bitingly against "public" prayer.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 4, 2011 5:02 am

Religion in the classroom is NOT POSITIVE. To many, it is fictional garbage. If she wants some real noise, let her bring it. It's really becoming embarrassing what these neighborhood "leaders" are doing to the city. They take advantage of their uninformed constituents and pretend they have the answers. Blackwell is a disgrace and needs to be voted out. At least she can be voted out, unlike the Queen.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on March 4, 2011 8:13 am

Let's pray that she is not re-elected.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 4, 2011 8:28 am

She's definitely in cahoots with Ackerman on this one. They're both into this stuff.

"If only we had prayer in schools we wouldn't have this mess". . . "If only we still beat our children we wouldn't have this mess" . . . "If only we still had corporal punishment in schools we wouldn't have this mess". . . "If only students wore suits to school every day we wouldn't have this mess". . . . "If only parents knew correct grammar we wouldn't have this mess". . . . (insert uncontrollable eye roll that just won't stop here)

Of course, these are the solutions! It has nothing to do with policy makers, lawmakers, disinvestment, class, race, budget decisions, structural inequity, lack of jobs, criminalization of people, or anything else that has to do with HOW THINGS ACTUALLY WORK.

What a relief! Cosmetic changes are actually all we need!

. I like the spirit of the "idea" that this is about respect, morals, faith, love. If only the two of them actually treated people like that.

Submitted by lovetoteach (not verified) on March 6, 2011 9:05 am

Blackwell is just another shady politician who needs to stay out of Philly schools. Leave the education to the educators.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2011 10:46 pm

Public school officials are government officials and government officials have no authority to "encourage" (or discourage) prayer in public schools (a government institution). The city council has overstepped its authority even in "encouraging" prayer in public schools. Government must remain uninvolved in all religous matters. These school officials are oblivious as the limits of their authority.

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