Prayer refusal leads to discipline

This news item from the UK, Prayer refusal pupils ‘disciplined’, clicked with me.

Parents are up in arms because pupils who refused to participate in a Muslim prayer have been disciplined by the school. The pupils “were given detention for being ‘disrespectful’ to the prophet.”

One parent said: “Making them pray to Allah, who isn’t who they worship, is wrong.” Another: “I am absolutely furious my daughter was made to take part in it and I don’t find it acceptable.” And: “My child has been forced to pray to Allah in a school lesson.”

Shocking isn’t it. But just a minute. Doesn’t this go on in our society every day? Many children are obliged to participate in Christian prayers and ceremonies, or at least require parental permission to be excused from them.

And what about adults? Don’t we sometimes have Christian prayers and ceremonies imposed on us in public situations.

I find all these acts offensive. It doesn’t matter whose religious ceremony it is – Muslim, Christan or Jewish. People with different beliefs should never be subjected, unasked, to such ceremonies.

Not only does it show a lack of respect for those with other beliefs. The act of imposition surely degrades the religious significance of the ceremony. People who impose their beliefs in this way are surely demonstrating a lack of respect for their own beliefs.

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21 responses to “Prayer refusal leads to discipline

  1. The trouble is the article only reports the parent’s claim that they the kids were told to pray. Kneeling down is not synonymous with prayer – I don’t know the facts of the case but acting out a rite is not prayer, it is a pedagogical tool to demonstrate how Muslims pray which seems to me an appropriate educational tool any less than teaching kids evolution is not tantamount to being anti-Christian.


  2. It’s an interesting case, and the parallel you draw that “Many children are obliged to participate in Christian prayers and ceremonies…” is fair enough.
    (By the way, the school nearest our church has recently opted to end the ‘religious eduction’ or ‘bible in schools’ programme…)
    However, I still find your language of ‘imposition’ extreme. I take your point about children and the social stimatisation of having to be ‘taken away’, etc., but as far as public ceremonies being an ‘imposition’ upon adults, I don’t see it. First of all, we have all kinds of things ‘imposed’ on us: culture, advertising, values, etc. Learning to cope with it is part of life. Secondly, what about Maori culture, language and prayers being ‘imposed’ on us? Thirdly, a ‘neutral’ religious view is virtually non-existant. Why should a ‘non-religious’ or ‘secular’ or ‘humanist’ worldview be given priority?
    All people of all worldviews just have to put up with one another… And as for prayers in public (for example in NZ, maori or christian), these traditions are part of NZ history, so it seems fitting to honour them. Of course that’s debatable, but many people feel that way.


  3. Why should any worldview, religious or non-religious, be given priority in our pluralistic society? And why should any be imposed?
    Surely people can do their own thing without imposing on others. That’s part of showing respect for each other.

    Many traditions that were part of NZ history have been abandoned – particularly those that violated basic human rights. Christian ceremony doesn’t characterise our common tradition – either in the past and certainly not in the present.

    I agree with you about the way that Maori culture is often used. Part of the problem here is, to me, the way that a colonial religion has been sneaked into the culture. It’s often a way of imposing a Christian prayer on others. However, a genuine Maori karakia is quite different and can very often be appropriate for opening meetings, etc.


  4. Good question…
    But public meetings are about doing things together, not ‘doing their own thing’. Showing respect for others is easy when a) you’re not actually with others, or b) everyone is exactly like you… but showing respect is most needed in our pluralistic society where things happen like public prayer. No one is being ‘forced’ to pray… No one’s watching to make sure everyone nods in agreement or says ‘Amen’… Having to ‘endure’ public prayer? Gee whiz… Show me a real problem. πŸ™‚

    And how would we even begin to define what NZ’s ‘common tradition’ is? Certainly Maori and Christian culture is a large part of it. Large enough to warrant inclusion in public ceremonies…

    I find your sharp distinction between “imposed” Christian prayer and an “appropriate” Maori karakia to be utterly non-sensical… Sorry! πŸ™‚



  5. (just to be clear, we’ve been blogging with each other long enough, I trust you’ll not take offense at my teasing!)


  6. With Census results showing about 52% (and dropping) declaring a Christian religion one is on unsafe grounds to declare the religion as a large part of our culture. We are at a stage where our public ceremonies should recognise our diversity and become more inclusive.

    However, things do change and I am more concerned with those situations where people are captured and imposed on. Like a work celebration or a school reunion. These are not the usual public ceremony (that is, no ceremony is usually implied or required). It’s just that someone decides to impose their own personal belief through a blessing or ‘grace’ without prior consensus being obtained.

    I personally find this to be rude and it offends me.
    Public events such as parliament, etc., I can stay away from. But I couldn’t choose not to attend a work function.

    I really can’t see any need to be offended by a genuine karakia. It’s a bit like reading from a work of literature, etc., to make a point about, e.g., cooperation and conservation when starting a joint project. To me that’s far more acceptable than appealing to a god that only a few actually believe in.


  7. And what, pray tell (pun intended) might such a ‘diverse’ and ‘more inclusive’ public ceremony look like? How many worldview/religious expressions should have to have ‘spots’ at each one?

    As for your work celebration or school reunion, if someone chooses to bless the food or say a grace, that’s hardly ‘imposing’ their belief on anyone. It might be inappropriate (and very well might not), but not ‘imposing’… And the idea of taking a ‘prior consensus’ is laughable! Would one objection warrant the removal of the prayer? Two?

    Again, no one (in these scenarios) is making you do anything. They’re not ‘imposing’ any thing ‘on you’.

    And if there’s such a thing as a ‘genuine’ karakia, what would a ‘fake’ one be like?


  8. Interesting discussion.


    I am genuinely interested in your understanding of what karakia is as well. Having done quite a bit of reading on Maori spirituality and having a wife studying Maori language at the moment as part of her job with the Ministry of Education (with learning a couple of basic karakia being part of that training), I think trying to make a distinction that holds karakia up as more acceptable than a Christian prayer – where your understanding of Christian prayer is “appealing to a god that only a few actually believe in” shows either a hypocritical approach at worst and at best just a misunderstanding of the nature of karakia.

    With that in mind, I would love to hear your understanding of what karakia actually is… and most certainly, what a genuine karakia is as opposed to one that is not genuine.


  9. My experience of karakia has been in two ways.

    1: A karakia at the beginning of a class, exhibition, carving or other art work, etc. This has had no religious content – but has been very poetic and ‘with nature’ as it were. Also somewhat traditional/historic in comparing current actions/preparations with what might have gone on in the past. Yes, also spiritual in the sense of respecting and conserving nature. Europeans could take, and sometimes do take, similar non-religous extracts from their extremely rich culture to serve a similar purpose.

    I’m somewhat suspicious of any ceremony but find such uses of our cultural heritage quite uplifting.

    2: A “karakia” at the beginning of a class (at the request of a young female participant) who presented it as part of Maori culture. It was in fact a Christian prayer. Strangely, some in the class objected because they saw it as Maori. I objected because it was a religious prayer. Anyway, I think it was deceptive to present it as a karakia – although I realise that Christian prayers are sometimes included in karakia, powhiri, etc. these days. I think that’s sad, and unnecessary.

    Dale, we have discussed this several times before and I don’t think either of us will change our thinking. However, for myself I hope I have communicated the feelings that this sort of imposition produces. I’m currently involved in jury service and this makes me aware that society has changed its ceremonies over the years to be more inclusive. In the old days non-Christians were generally not well accommodated in things like oaths, weddings and funerals. Thankfully that has changed and we are now more respectful to each other, if not more enlightened.


  10. Thanks for that, Ken.

    So based on that, am I correct in assuming that your understanding of a genuine karakia is one that takes extracts from established karakia that don’t bring in any overt spiritual elements? Stuff that doesn’t offend your spiritual sensibilities?

    If this is the case, it’s not genuine karakia you like at all… it’s parts of it presented to an audience not steeped in Maori spirituality.

    Karakia are prayers that are used to create oneness – oneness between people present in any given situation, the ancestors and the spirit realm. Where Christianity has influenced Maori spirituality, calling upon God or the name of Jesus Christ still fits the overall understanding of karakia, so to use Christian concepts is not deceptive at all.

    But even if we see the introduction of Christianity to karakia as unnecessary and thus look to pre-Christian karakia, we still find a practice steeped in a world-view that would offend your spiritual sensibilities. Genuine karakia recognises a plethora of gods alongside the spiritual presence of ancestors and it seeks to unite all these elements with the people present.

    In fact, some believe karakia were created in a union between the gods and the ancestors… but that’s an unnecessary discussion.

    All this to say that an extracted blessing from a karakia may be one form of karakia, but it could not rightly be called a true representation of the breadth of genuine karakia.

    A right understanding of karakia wholly recognises a spiritual realm and thus to state that it is more acceptable than Christian prayer (a recognised form of karakia when undertaken by a Tohunga in many settings) where Christian prayer is disregarded because it is “appealing to a god that only a few actually believe in” is a little hypocritical and bordering on offensive.

    If I, as a Minister, were to engage in prayer at a formal event, it would be recognised in Maori culture as karakia, as the point would be to unite the spiritual and those present; to create oneness.


  11. I think there is a lot of confusion about the word spiritual – some people prefer not to use it. However, I am happy with a dictionary definition that includes: “connected by an affinity of the mind, spirit, or temperament” and “showing great refinement and concern with the higher things in life.” But my use of spiritual doesn’t include belief in ghosts, or spirits in that sense – or literal belief in a myth. One can feel a oneness with other people, our forefathers and nature (and I do) without belief in a “spirit realm” (which probably very few people really believe in anyway).

    I am offended when a situation is imposed on me in which I am required to go along with such a belief in ghosts, etc.

    A lot of this problem is tied up with the difference between using mythology as a valid literary device we can all appreciate, or using it as a literal belief which many, if not most, of us just don’t accept.

    However, importantly you describe karakia as used to create oneness. That is my exact point. If a group imposes an unacceptable ceremony on others they are creating division, not oneness. It doesn’t matter if that is done in English or Maori. If it is imposing literal beliefs, rather than poetic appreciation, in a European myth a Maori myth or an Arab myth it is inevitably divisive in a diverse community such as New Zealand today.

    This is why the British families were offended by imposition of a Muslim prayer.

    We have really got to get to a situation where we do genuinely work to create a oneness. This will require us to respect people of different beliefs (while not necessarily accepting those beliefs).

    Where prayers (Christian or Muslim) or any non-inclusive ceremony (secular or religious) are imposed they create the opposite situation. They actively exclude a section of the community.

    There is a time and place for everything.


  12. I’m not disagreeing with that at all, what I took issue with was your distinction between karakia and Christian prayer as if somehow, karakia was more acceptable… when your reasoning for rejecting Christian prayer would ultimately also disregard the Maori worldview that gives birth to karakia. It seemed a little hypocritical.

    If you reject one, you must, out of necessesity, reject the other. There are forms of each you would probably find acceptable, but ultimately, they are a very similar thing.


  13. Good points, both.
    Ken, I see two main things:
    1) All kinds of prayers can be done offensively in a way that kills relationship; and all kinds of prayers can also be done quite appropriately in a way that respects others and builds relationship. Your elevation of a ‘genuine’ public karakia over any/all christian public prayers is more offensive than the very praying you’re complaining about.

    2) Being present during a Christian prayer/blessing or karakia or reading from humanist literature or a moment of silence does not ‘impose’ either Christian, Maori, humanist or ‘silentist’ beliefs on anyone. Asking an atheist to pray a christian prayer – now THAT would be imposing. Your use of ‘imposing’ language is grossly exaggerated.


  14. Servant, I have explained my experience. And that has been that karakia (not involving a Christian prayer) have been acceptable. However, any which implied participation in the literal belief in ghosts, spirits, demons, gods, etc. would not be acceptable. Yes many Maori do hold literal beliefs (I suspect they would mainly call these Christian rather than traditional) – but I would not call that a “Maori worldview” any more than I would call Christianity a European worldview. I don’t like to stereotype ethnic groups.

    My experience has been that the few karakia I have been exposed to in my art world have not required a literal belief and have, in that sense, been uniting rather than divisive. That’s not hypocritical.

    Actually, I should say I have also experienced ceremonial comments by Christians that have also been uniting. In these cases they have recognised the diverse nature of the group involved and have adjusted their comments appropriately to include everyone. This sort of approach is becoming more and more common.

    Dale, of course the imposition of a ceremony doesn’t impose a belief on anyone. Quite the reverse as it can actually backfire and encourage the contrary belief.

    I have explained this before – what offends me is the assumption that my beliefs are the same as the perpetrators. That assumption demonstrates a lack of respect. We have really got to get past that way of treating people.

    The point of my post was to use a situation most Chrsitians would understand as offensive (imposition of a Muslim prayer) to illustrate how non-Christians can feel in similar situations.


  15. I have also experienced ceremonial comments by Christians that have also been uniting. … they have recognised the diverse nature of the group involved and have adjusted their comments appropriately to include everyone.

    Well said, THAT is what we can agree on – respect for others.

    Further, the simple act of a Christian prayer a) is not characterised by an ‘assumption’ of what anyone believes, and b) therefore does not demonstrate a lack of respect, and c) certainly doesn’t warrant calling the praying person a ‘perpetrator’… (gee, you love using extreme words!) πŸ™‚

    Your post started fine, but then implied that public prayer (unless a ‘genuine karakia’, of course) was by it’s very nature offensive… That attitude will not help the cause of mutual respect which we both agree needs to be fostered.


  16. It’s a matter of perspective, Dale. Prayers which speak for the group “Let us pray ..”, “we pray ..”, etc., certainly do assume the beliefs of everyone in the group. I have yet to hear such a prayer spoken in a way to represent only part of the group. The imposition probably just doesn’t seem real to those who are part of the “we” or “us.”

    That’s why I think the story about imposition of Muslim prayer is important. It brings home the perspective of someone who has the act imposed on them.

    Ceremonial leaders, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Hindu, etc., are quite capable of adjusting their comments to include everyone – I certainly would in that situation.


  17. Thanks Ken,
    I recently was asked to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for an ANZAC Day (very public) ceremony – representing the churches of the area. Though I assumed that not everyone who would hear the prayer shared my beliefs (and I wrote my prayer with that in mind), it still was a Christian prayer.
    Not only had they asked a Christian to pray, but also the programme for the event (which everyone [most/many?] received) informed people of what elements the ceremony would consist of (which — shock! horror! — included singing christian hymns).
    I think the ceremony was entirely and utterly appropriate.

    I see what you’re saying about the ‘us’ and ‘we’ prayers, but I think, Ken, that most people realise that if someone prays such prayers in a public ceremony it most certainly doesn’t ‘mean’ that everyone agrees with what’s being prayed. This is basic stuff. Nobody’s being singled out. Nobody is having anything imposed on them.

    I do, however, agree with your point that various people of various views can adjust their comments, though I think it’s important not to be offended if they don’t. If a Muslim leader prayed an exclusively Muslim prayer at a public ceremony – I’d simply listen and be respectfully quiet. Pretty simple, really.

    Now, here, I would (no doubt in agreement with you) clarify that it would be completely inappropriate for anyone to include in their prayer sentiments which specifically denounced others. That’s simply not respectful.

    The type of ceremony I’ve had in mind so far in this comment has been ‘official’ or ‘state’ ceremonies. As for things like birthdays, weddings, compulsory work gatherings, etc., I think it depends: If the person having the birthday, or the couple getting married are Christian, then a Christian prayer is most appropriate and it would be silly to be offended when one is given, etc.

    Tea is ready at the Campbell home…


  18. State and similar ceremonies are situations where one knows what one is going into. However, I think we have to continually update what is considered ‘acceptable’ to take into account the diversity of our population (Thats why the issue of Parliamentary Christian prayers should be looked at in an open way – without the lobbying that usually goes on).

    However, the ‘capturing’ of a group with an imposed ceremony is, I think, immoral. That is the situation where I am offended.

    Families have their own internal issues. Weddings and funerals are of course the responsibility of the people involved (although in the latter case the wishes of the deceased are sometimes ignored, or even insulted.

    I personally find the non-religious funerals most uplifting and respectful to the deceased (and honest where the deceased had no religious belief). Strangely, I attended a funeral recently where a prayer was made purely because the organisers wanted to provide something for some of the mourners (rather than respect the beliefs of the deceased).


  19. But isn’t that the whole point? You personally think what you personally think – just like everyone else. It would be just as ‘wrong’ to deny or ban a prayer from being said if the deceased would have wanted one just because a few present would be ‘offended’ by it.

    In life, we share all kinds of time (school time, work lunch-room time, family-reunion time, etc.) with all kinds of people who have all kinds of views about all kinds of things. We do the best we can not to intentionally offend others. Again, your militant opposal to prayers in ceremonies (perhaps) could do more to cause offense than the prayer itself. Then again, I’ve not met you, never been in such a situation where you were present, and never seen how you handled (or ‘tolerated’) things…


  20. It seems that my desire to be respected in itself causes offense to people whose actions I find offensive! Labels like militant are just a way of avoiding the simple logic of these situations.

    No one is denying people their rights to their own ceremonies – thats just a diversionary argument that’s used when this issue arises.

    Hopefully we try “not to intentionally offend others.” Sometimes, though, this isn’t the case in our diverse culture and people do have the right to be offended when a cultural, religious or racial interpretation is imposed. If we cause offense by raising the issue – then perhaps this is what is required for the offender to realise what they have done and to learn to be more sensitive to their cultural environment.

    Here’s an article discussing a similar issue ofprayer requests – and the comments are also relevant to this discussion – How Should Atheists Respond When Others Ask for Prayers, Miracles?.


  21. Is it possible that you’re wanting more than just respect, though?

    Again, your usage of the word ‘imposed’ is key. If indeed something is being imposed, then yes, I agree that raising the issue (even if it causes offense to do so) is required for the sake of respect, etc. But if something is not being imposed, then ‘raising the issue’ causes more offense than the original act itself.

    From my perspective (and of course, I’ve never met you and we’re not working with a specifically defined scenario here), you seem to be taking something which you find un-tasteful, and painting it as an ‘imposition’.

    As for the article you link to, my thought before I read it is that a parallel article could be written called “How Should Theists Respond When Others Ask Them Not to Pray?”

    Further, I do respect your right (in a democratic society) to use your (democratic) voice to argue for less (or none?) ‘christian’ content in public, state ceremonies. That is your right, just as it is a christian’s right to argue for the content. But calling it an ‘imposition’ I think -still- is an extreme use of the word.


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