Jewish Journal


August 28, 2007

Does ritual meditation belong in schools?


An editor once told me to avoid quoting officials from Americans United for Separation of Church and State because, he said, they lack any constituency and its executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, often looks like a caricature of a religious libertarian.

But this morning, as I listened to a report on NPR’s Day to Day about more public schools teaching children transcendental meditation, and as I began to ponder how I would blog about the religious implications of such a school program, a lawyer involved with AU was quoted on the segment saying much of what I had been thinking:

“It’s not the business of the public schools to lead kids to inner-peace through a spiritual process. ... If you teach transcendental mediation, you open the floodgates and allow any spiritual or religious group to have access to formal teaching of its edicts in public schools.”

The goal of the program is to “reduce stress, increase focus and bolster achievement,” and the principal of the inner-city school featured on the report said that attacks on TM as religious ritual are overblown. “I’m a Baptist. ... I have one God.”

Still, I have serious reservations about a movement reportedly spreading to 100 schools nationwide by next year. School prayer cannot be institutionally driven when it is Christian or Muslim or Jewish in theme. So why would religious prayer be OK when it has roots in an eastern religion?

Tangentially: A great episode from the third season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—they’re all great—is “The Special Section,” in which Larry David gives Richard Lewis his meditating mantra, “Jai-ya.” The phrase, which Larry had said thousands of times before, is not actually something that brings peace, but causes more of the chaos common to Larry David’s life. It means “F—- me.”

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