Bryant discusses religious freedom within the classroom

Communication lecturer Will Bryant discusses freedom of religion during the Future of the First Amendment Symposium at Augusta University. (photo by Caleb Miller)

By Caleb Miller |

William Bryant, a communication lecturer, gave a presentation about religion in schools as it relates to the First Amendment at Augusta University on March 14.

“My thesis specifically deals with the public expression of religion within the classroom, specifically the access to participation in religious expression as well as the restriction from religious expression,” Bryant said.

Bryant was one of AU’s several speakers throughout the week, including veteran journalist Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington, D.C. 

AU’s Pamplin College, Department of Communication, the Bell Ringer and the Phoenix (student magazine) hosted a series of free presentations, performances and screenings over various First Amendment topics during March 13-15.

Bryant began his speech with witty humor and thorough overviews. Before outlining the two distinctive types of religious prayer—prophetic and contemplative—he read straight from the constitution to set the precedent for his talk.

As Bryant discussed, while most would consider prophetic prayer (more out-loud/in public prayer) when thinking of religious practice, the founding fathers were considering contemplative prayer (reserved/meditative prayer) in their documentation.

Bryant presented his position on the restriction of verbal prayer in the classrooms and feels that the contemplative tradition is a suitable substitute for the practice. 

His suggestion to strengthen this practice is through moments of silence whereby the instructor institutes a collective moment of silence for students to use as they see fit, whether it be prayer or intentional thought.

“Out of these moments of silence one has the ability to pray to his or her creator in the classroom, but teachers need to understand the importance of promoting silence in the classroom,” Bryant said.

The measure to which this exercise of silence in the schools succeeds is determined by the teachers’ willingness to deliberately communicate to students the importance of searching within themselves and praying, according to Bryant.

 “Education has two roles: Number one, it’s to teach pragmatic skills within the classroom; number two, it’s to have profound changes with the character of the individual,” Bryant said.

While Bryant feels American education systems are succeeding at the education of pragmatic skills, he also feels it is lacking in profound character change of students.

His solution is not just opening the door for moments of silence to occur but also ensuring that teachers promote a healthy function within these moments of silence. He suggests that practice falls directly in line with the freedom that the forefathers intended within establishment clause of the First Amendment.  

Bryant’s presentation was followed by a student directed reading of the drama “The Trial of John Peter Zenger” by Michael E. Tigar.


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