Trump likely to bring prayers back into schools to rally evangelical voters in move that could divide nation
President Donald Trump has thrown his support behind evangelicals by promising "big action" to promote school prayer.
Touching on the long-controversial issue of religion in public schools, Trump sought to rally evangelical support in the upcoming elections as they were key to his 2016 presidential victory, Time magazine reported.
“We will not allow faithful Americans to be bullied by the hard left,” Trump told his evangelical supporters at a Florida megachurch on January 3. “Very soon, I’ll be taking action to safeguard students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools. We’re doing a big action, Attorney General Bill Barr.”
While the president did not expand on his plans, he is scheduled to announce “guidance on constitutional prayer in public schools” on Thursday. The US Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot promote religious symbols or prayer in schools, although the First Amendment supports the free exercise of religion. It is therefore not clear what action Trump could take without violating the Supreme Court ruling, according to legal and religious experts.
Frank Ravitch, a Michigan State University law professor who has written about school prayer, said that "Private prayer, to the extent that it would ever be interfered with, is already protected by the First Amendment and there are very, very few cases where any government official has tried to interfere with a private student’s right to pray."
A Gallup poll showed that overall American support for daily prayer in public school classrooms had fallen from 70% in 1999 to 61% in 2014, and that Republicans were far more likely to support school prayer as compared to Democrats. The poll also indicated that protestants and other Christians were more likely to support daily prayer than people with no religious preference.
“Essentially what’s going on here is it’s pandering to social conservatives,” Ravitch said. “That’s really what this is about.”
President Trump has enjoyed strong support from evangelicals throughout his presidency. He won 81% of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 election, per exit polls. Furthermore, 79% of white evangelical Protestants approve of how Trump is handling his job as president, according to a December poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Having said that, some evangelicals do not approve of Trump's actions. In December, leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today published an editorial calling for Trump's removal from office, saying his conduct was "profoundly immoral." However, a sea of evangelical leaders threw their support behind the president in response.