Studies Show Inefficacy Of Prayer by Dillard Henderson (March 1996)

Iread with interest the letter by Ms. Dorothy Klein (Sept. 1995) entitled “No data on prayer.”

Ms. Klein questioned why her library does not list studies, or data, showing the benefits of prayer in schools. She points out that since public school prayer was outlawed in 1962 there has been ample time for the religionists to gather data as to the value of prayer.

Prayer and religion has never been proven, scientifically or otherwise, to be of value to humankind. It goes without saying that more prayers are not “granted” than “granted” when we consider the millions of prayers said during the holocaust and during other disastrous events.

Nothing fails like prayer.

Since prayer and religion are so closely united I believe the following four studies show that both prayer and religion are detrimental to society.

The first study was commissioned by the “National Catholic Educational Association,” funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This study covered 16,000 high school seniors from public and non-public high schools nationwide, as reported by Edd Doerr in Catholic Schools: The Facts. (See Footnote 1)

Results of this 1987 study follow:

  • Inebriated within the last two weeks:
        45% of Catholic school seniors

      39% of Public school seniors
  • Has tried Cocaine:
        21% of Catholic school seniors

      17% of Public school seniors
  • Had used Marijuana:
        57% of Catholic school seniors

      54% of Public school seniors
  • Smoked Marijuana the last six months:
        44% of Catholic school seniors

      41% of Public school seniors
  • Shoplifting the the past year:
        40% of Catholic school seniors

      29% of Public school seniors

As Edd Doerr points out, Catholic schools expel “troublemakers.” These “troublemakers” spill over into the public schools. Even so the Catholic schools did not fare well. I understand that Catholic schools have prayer several times daily!

It is hard to believe that this study is biased since it was commissioned by the “National Catholic Education Association” and shows Catholic high-school seniors to be more immoral than public high school seniors.

Another study done in the early 60s by Emmett McLoughlin, author of “Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church,” is indeed revealing. (See Footnote 2)

He studied the U.S. prison population by denomination; the mental health population by denomination in U.S. institutions, the unmarried births in Catholic countries vs nonCatholic countries, etc.

The Catholics with their constant praying, were the worst “sinners” of all denominations in the above listed categories.

McLoughlin compares, for example, the prison population by religious denomination with the population in the state at large, i.e., per capita.

For example, in Arizona there was a total Catholic population of 22% yet 32.5% of the Arizona State Prison population were Catholic and 50.9% of the Fort Grant Industrial School for Boys were Catholic.

Another interesting study is “The Midtown Manhattan Study,” published in “The Metropolis.” (See Footnote 3)

This massive study, done in the 70s, focused on mental health in downtown Manhattan. Protestants fared better than Roman Catholics.

Most of the religionists had mental problems from mild neurosis to very impaired.

The actual data is that 20.2% of the Protestants were “well” while 17.4% of the Roman Catholics were “well.”

I could find no reference to nonbelievers. Nearly all studies assume we all have some type of religion.

Last is a World War II study of noncommissioned servicemen admitted to the Sutton Emergency Hospital, referred to as “The Slater Study.” (See Footnote 4)

Out of 13,556 soldiers, 9,354 were admitted to the psycho ward. This study is presented as a percentage of the total of a particular denomination that was hospitalized. For example, of all the Methodists admitted to the hospital, 74% were sent to the psycho ward while the remaining 26% were sent to wards for other medical problems.

Of the 9,354 soldiers admitted to the psycho ward, the following percentages apply to the various religious groups:

  • 61% Church of England–little or no religion
  • 72% Roman Catholic
  • 74% Methodist
  • 85% Salvation Army
  • 92% Jewish (mostly mild neurosis in this category)

This study does not say much in favor of prayer or religion. The less religion one had, the better off mentally.

Soldiers who had little or no religion, and associated with the Church of England, statistically were mentally healthier than those of other faiths.

It is hard to believe that this study could be biased since it was only required that you count heads.

Please consider this beautiful sounding nondenominational public school prayer:

“Almighty God. Dear heavenly father in thy name let us now in pious spirit begin our instruction. Enlighten us. Teach us all truth, strengthen us in all that is good, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from all evil in order that, as good human beings, we may faithfully perform our duties and thereby, in time and eternity, be made truly happy. Amen.”

The man who wrote the prayer, also wrote, “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air, consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith . . . we need believing people.”

His name was Hitler. Soon after he and his “religious right” took power, verbal prayer was required in all public schools.

Hitler and his followers burned millions of public school books, including math and science books, for not praising Jesus and to eliminate any reference to evolution.

I am not suggesting that prayer in school would necessarily bring on another monster like Hitler, although history does show religion has created many monsters, such as John Calvin. I am showing that prayer in schools did not curtail the heinous crimes perpetrated by a misguided people.

From the few studies published on this subject that I have been able to find, the evidence is that prayer and religion are gross failures and detrimental to society.

Remember the words of great orator Robert Green Ingersoll who said, “The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.”

The writer is a FFRF board member who lives in Michigan.


  1. Catholic Schools: The Facts by Edd Doerr, Americans For Religious Liberty, (Silver Spring MD, 1993)
  2. Emmett McLoughlin, Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church. Hardback. (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1962)
  3. Leo Srole, Mental Health In The Metropolis: The Midtown Manhattan Study, (New York: New York University Press, 1987)
  4. Michael Argyle, Religious Behavior (Glencoe, II. The Free Press 1958, 1959)    

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