My friend Russell Martin just posted one of my favorite blog posts I've read in a long time about the issue of kids wearing their hats in worship at church camp and the bad taste it leaves with a student when he is reprimanded, or corrected at the beginning of a service for wearing a hat. I really encourage you to read his post. As he was asking for our thoughts on the issue, mine were more than I could contain in a comment, so I am commenting in the form of a blog post of my own.
Russell makes the following quote in his post, "The biggest change in my life happened when I stopped doing the good things I was doing because that was what I was “supposed to do” as a Christian, and started doing some of the same things because I wanted to please God." I can really relate to this because I had the same change of heart in my own life.
The Scripture I discovered a long time ago was in I Corinthians 8 regarding food sacrificed to idols. The Apostle Paul was dealing with a church that was located in a pretty godless city-Corinth. Corinth was a port city and was a "what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth" kind of place. There were many temples to pagan deities, many offering encounters with temple prostitutes as an act of worship to the fertility gods. Many foods offered in the local markets were foods that had been offered to many of these pagan deities and then sold in the streets after the worship services were over. Paul is giving the Corinthian believers freedom to eat these foods as long as brothers and sisters of weaker conscience or who are less mature in their faith are not witness to this. In other words, if it causes someone to think you are sinning by eating it, don't do it. Your witness is more important than your personal freedom.
I grew up learning that we didn't pray with our hats on and that we didn't wear hats in church. Wearing a hat in the house was not a big deal like it was when my parents were younger. But it stands to reason that as culture has changed since my childhood, the issue of hats in worship is often lost on younger believers but may still be a bigger issue to those of my generation and older.
I think Paul's advice about food used in idol worship applies here. I think for a mature believer who is aware that wearing a hat in a worship service may be a distraction, he should remove his hat rather than practicing his freedom in worship. But to the 7th grader at camp who is pouring out his heart in meaningful worship with his head tucked beneath his Texas Rangers ball cap, who are we to interrupt his communion with God so we can force him to remove his hat? I think we are grieving the Spirit to make the student feel uncomfortable (and hinder his worship of God) over what is really not that big of a deal.
I've had some great worship experiences indoors and out with a hat on. I've had some great prayer times indoors and out both hatted and sans hat. But when I am with my youth group, I always try to set the example of removing my hat during worship times because I know there are people that will be distracted by it and if I don't set that example for the students, then they may become a distraction later for someone else. But I think it is equally absurd to teach them a legalistic mentality that if they worship or pray with their hat on that somehow their prayers never make it past the bill of the cap.