News Roundup: When is prayer OK?

Prayer – many find it helpful when they are troubled or ill, but for others it can be uncomfortable or even offensive. A few stories this week gave us some insight into how prayer fares in different public settings.

In the UK, a Christian math teacher was fired for repeatedly offering to pray for a student suffering from cancer. Though Olive Jones claims she was merely offering support, Paddy and Stephanie Lynch, the student’s parents, said their daughter was “traumatized” by Jones’ recurring offers and eventually reported her to the school (Daily Mail reports).

Teachers shouldn’t be praying with their students, but what about doctors praying with their patients? A survey of 30 doctors exploring how they respond to prayer requests from patients found that doctors generally followed four distinct scenarios, based on their comfort level with prayer, ranging from praying with the patient to referring them to a spiritual leader. Regardless of which route a doctor chose, each made an effort to be respectful of the patient and his or her family. Though praying in schools is more of a black and white issue, in doctor-patient relationships there is more of a gray area. If a patient requests it and a doctor is comfortable doing it, it can enhance the doctor-patient relationship (if – and only if – a patient requests it).

In Oklahoma, a hospital is taking prayer to a new level, creating a “community of prayer” with a new Web site called The hospital hopes the social media site will raise awareness about the power of prayer in healing.

In other news, PEW released a study this week on religiosity in all 50 states, measuring the importance of religion in people’s lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God. Mississippi is the most religious state, while New Hampshire and Vermont were the least religious.

All of us here at Tanenbaum wish you a happy end to 2009 – I’ll see you in 2010!