If you read the comments posted at websites with news stories about school prayer, then you will undoubtedly run across comments such as "no one is forcing anyone to pray" or "they could just stick their fingers in their ears if they are offended".
First, as I mentioned before, it is not just a question of being offended. I would like to urge all non-believers and believers who support the separation of church and state to stop saying that it is objectionable because someone might be offended and to correct anyone who says that it is.
It is objectionable because it gives the appearance of government support for religion, intentionally sends a signal that conformity is required by the community, and because it violates the rights of the individual to keep his or her religious beliefs private and not be forced to choose between making them public or pretending to go along and violate the dictates of his or her conscience.
When confronted with the usual lies about school prayer, you can respond with:
"It's not that someone might be offended, it's that it makes it impossible for people to keep their beliefs private."
"The problem is that it makes it impossible for people to keep their beliefs private."
You can follow that with:
"It clearly sends a message that conformity is expected by government and by the majority of the child's schoolmates."
"It is nothing but a rather obvious form of bullying."
"If the student doesn't conform, he will be bullied and his family might even be run out of town. There have been numerous cases where that is exactly what happened."
The truth is that any student who doesn't pray in such situations will be forced to do so or else leave town. Remember that this sort of thing will only happen these days in school districts with an overwhelming percentage of believers who are all in very similar religions. Otherwise, the school prayer issue would have long since reared its head and been resolved by a decision to follow the law. Only in an extremely religious school district would the decision be made to ignore the law.
Thus, first and foremost, the non-believer who chooses not to pray will be subjected to social pressure to conform. The very existence of the unnecessary public prayer sessions proves that, because that is the only reason to have such public organized prayer sessions outside of a church.
If the non-believing child refuses to bow to this implicit social pressure, greater pressure will be brought to bear. He or she will be picked on and ostracized by the other students. Worse, the adults (who, of course, were the ones who made the decision to thumb their noses at the law in the first place) will use their positions of power and authority to pick on and ostracize the student and deprive him or her of things like membership in sports teams or clubs. Most important, the adults will cease to properly supervise the situation and will allow the other students to treat the non-believer badly or even encourage such mistreatment.
Numerous non-believers have gone through this sort of thing. Most of them either cave in emotionally and delude themselves into believing, pretend to conform, or move away. They usually do this quietly and without involving the authorities--not surprising given that they are usually in a place where even the authorities will approve of their mistreatment. Because most of the cases involve such quiet resolution, you don't hear much about them unless you go to online chat groups, meetings or conventions of non-believers where some of the victims end up in later years looking for support from the like-minded. In those places, you will meet many people who have gone through such things.
Every now and then, however, you have a case where the victims were able and willing to fight back. In such cases, you not only see exactly how the situation will play out and the true motives of the believers, you also get a public record of what happened. The Smalkowski case is such a case.
The Smalkowskis were new to their small Oklahoma community and that explains both why they fought back and why they were successful. They simply could not believe that such outrageous things were happening. They were not inured to this sort of intolerance and pressure. They had no extended family members in the community who were believers pressuring them to conform or who were subject to outside pressure or blackmail.
(I hate to say it--but it's true--but this also meant that the believers had no spies in the Smalkowski camp. I will write a post on the nature of the "inquisitiveness" shown by the religious at another time. But, in short, their nosiness is a form of psychopathic power seeking. They are digging for dirt to use against others and to make themselves feel superior.)
The steps in the escalating pressure and abuse that I spoke of above were followed right up to the point of trying to imprison Mr. Smalkowski on false charges. Don't ever let anyone say that school prayer doesn't force people to pray. It does, and that is the whole point of it.
One of the things you can say is:
"There is no reason to have organized school prayer EXCEPT to coerce people to conform."
The way the religious lie about this is simply unbelievable. If Franz Kafka and George Orwell collaborated on a novel it would almost certainly be called "Religion" and it would prominently feature official, public group prayer sessions resulting in the bullying and abuse of anyone who didn't conform combined with outright lies about what was happening.