They Bow To No One In Defending Prayer
by Taylor Dalton, Rachel Fisk, Olivia Jensen, and Lauryn Porter
On January 28, the Governing Board of Gilbert (Arizona) Public Schools paused in the midst of its lengthy evening’s agenda to invite public input on whether or not to begin opening its monthly business meetings with prayer. The crowd stirred to life when the first four citizens invited to the microphone turned out to be teenagers. The four were friends of different ages, schools, and backgrounds, united only by their involvement in the same local church, their participation in the same weekly book club, and their shared conviction that the right of people to pray should be protected. One by one, they cleared their throats and stepped up to the mike.
It was Lauryn’s idea. (She and Rachel are in junior high; Olivia and Taylor are in high school.) She had attended an earlier meeting of the board, and learned that the prayer issue would be discussed at the next session. She knew that each of us was at least a little interested in politics, and that all of us cared about the freedom to pray.
"Some of our friends in the audience said people had tears in their eyes … but not everyone was enthusiastic."
So she contacted the rest of us, and suggested that we all go to the meeting together, and that maybe each of us could prepare a little speech to give when they opened the floor for statements from the public. We got together, talked about it, and agreed the issue was important enough to make a stand. Maybe, we thought, it would be good for the adults to know that prayer was something young people cared about, too.
We went home, talked it over with our parents, and went to work on our speeches. The night of the meeting, most of us gathered at Lauryn’s house, prayed together, and piled into her mom’s car for the ride to the meeting. Olivia had learned that the school board in a neighboring town had just dealt with the same question. (Under pressure to stop opening their meetings with prayer, a board member had sought out advice from Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys helped the board members work out a policy that conformed with the Constitution—and allowed them to keep praying at their meetings.) The fact that another school’s board had decided to continue praying gave us hope that our board might reach a similar decision.
The big room was still pretty full when it came time for us to speak. Taylor, who probably has the most experience talking in front of groups, went first. He somehow managed to quote both Winston Churchill and Bruce Lee in his remarks, while making his point that:
“If we are truly loyal to our country, and honestly pledge allegiance to it, then we must recognize the stanza [of the Pledge] that states that we are a nation ‘under God.’… Even if you do not believe, as the Founding Fathers did, that there is such a higher being, a prayer can be used as a moment to meditate and contemplate the ideas and propositions about to be discussed. … I know that keeping prayer in these meetings will impact them for the better, thus helping to give us, the rising generation, the chance to achieve higher educational goals.”
“I just wanted to make sure that people understood me—not just what I was saying, but what I meant,” Taylor says. “So I prayed for wisdom, that God would help me get my point across in a way people would understand.” Lauryn was hoping the same thing as she came up after him. “I am here because I have a strong desire for prayer to be brought back to your school board meetings,” she told the crowd. “You guys have stewardship over many people and are making very big decisions every day. You should want God’s help for those important decisions … and to me every decision is an important decision when it affects the youth of our country.” Rachel was up next. “Praying isn’t something everybody believes in,” she said, “but they can still listen and feel the peace others feel. Our Senate says morning prayer before conducting their business. When any body of elected officials is making decisions for other people, they should pray for knowledge and guidance and more wisdom than they have.”
Olivia came up last, and struck a patriotic note. “George Washington said, ‘It is impossible to rightly govern without God.’ He believed that prayer in action allowed his ‘thoughts, words, and work’ to be directed for good, which, in settings such as these, is crucial to success. Bringing prayer into these meetings will demonstrate an appreciation and acceptance for all religious backgrounds. This preservation of religious cultures and ideas, no matter what they may be, provides an atmosphere conducive to these school board meetings’ effectiveness.” Praying is especially important, she told them, in “making decisions where the welfare of children is involved.”
Some of our friends in the audience said people had tears in their eyes while we were speaking. Even one of the board members wiped at his eyes. When the meeting closed, we congratulated each other. After all of our own preparation, it had been fun to hear what we each had to say. Then suddenly, we were surrounded. People from all over the room kept coming up to tell us how much they appreciated what we had said.
“I wish I’d had your eloquence when I was your age,” one said. “Thanks for being brave enough to speak up about this,” said another. But not everyone was enthusiastic. One woman accused Lauryn’s mother of forcing us to attend the meeting. “You told them what to say!” she said.
We were all kind of shocked that someone would think we had to be there. Lauryn’s mom tried to explain that we all chose to come—that this was actually important to us. We’re friends, and this is what we believe. Some of us get teased a lot and verbally attacked for our faith. It was great to have a chance to stand up in public and speak out for prayer and what we believe.
Two great things came out of that night. First, the board voted to begin opening its meetings with prayer. And second, we realized something: they let us, as students, go first. People actually wanted to hear what we had to say—just because we’re young.
If we are virtually guaranteed a chance to speak, we decided—shouldn’t we do it more often? Shouldn’t all young people of faith take advantage of this opportunity, every chance we get? We think so—and we’re all looking forward to the next chance we get to stand up, speak up, and make a difference.