Separation between state and religion





One of the most common questions asked about public prayer is whether or not it is legal

to hold it in a public school. It depends on the type of prayer we are talking about, and who is

doing the praying, since people are usually talking about organized classroom prayer, often led

by a teacher. The Supreme Court has set a law that states that organized prayer in a public

school goes against the First Amendment, whether it\'s in the classroom, over the loud speaker, or

even at a graduation ceremony. It also applies for Bible readings and when someone says "now

we will have a moment of silence", which courts will go against also. People feel it is not the

government\'s business to promote religious exercises, since they can easily be pushed upon

young students that have to be at school due to their attendance policies.


A public school has the responsibility to protect every student. This will include children

of various religions, as well as children with no religious faith. This does not mean

the school should be disrespectful of the important role religion plays for many students. Courts

have made it clear that students should have the right to practice their religion, with some

limitations. Students are free to pray, read their Bibles and even invite others to join their

religious group as long as they are not disruptive of the school or disrespectful of the rights to the

other students. A student should not be allowed to pressure or other kids in or on public school

grounds. For example, a student is allowed to pray before meals, read her Bible during study

hall, create an art project with a religious theme or invite other students to attend church. These

activities are all allowed. In fact, the school might be guilty of violating the student\'s free speech

and free exercise rights if it tried to stop the religious activities.

Students have the right to hang out with their friends for prayer and other

religious activities within the rules. .For example, students are permitted to

gather around the flagpole for prayer before school begins, as many students do

occasionally, as long as the event is not sponsored or endorsed by the school and other students

are not pressured to attend.

like outside adults, generally have no right to pray with or in the presence of students in a public

school. (4) As representatives of the state, teachers are under an obligation to protect the rights

of all students including non-believers. A teacher who abuses this position of trust may be

terminated.

Students may also meet for prayer and religious study pursuant to the federal Equal Access Act.

If a school permits extracurricular student groups to meet during noninstructional time, this Act

requires that religious groups be given equal treatment. Again, the Act does not allow teachers or

other adults to lead such meetings.(5) The Act applies only to secondary schools as defined by

state law. (See chapter 12 on equal access).

The most confusing and controversial part of the current school prayer debate involves

graduation prayer. In the 1992 decision Lee v. Weisman , the Supreme Court addressed this issue.

The case involved prayers delivered by clergy at middle school commencement exercises in

Providence, Rhode Island. The school designed the program, provided for the invocation,

selected the clergy and even provided guidelines for the prayer. The Supreme Court held that the

practice violated the First Amendment\'s prohibition against laws "respecting an establishment of

religion." The Justices based their decision on the fact that (1) it is not the business of schools to

sponsor or organize religious activities, and (2) students who might have objected to the prayer

were subtly coerced to participate. This coercion was not cured by the fact that attendance at the

graduation was "voluntary." In the Court\'s view, few students would want to miss the

culminating event of their academic career. For similar reasons, lower courts have struck down

invocations at other public school events such as athletic contests.(6)

Confusion arose a year later when the Justices refused to grant an appeal in Jones v. Clear Creek

Independent School District, a Texas case upholding the practice of graduation prayer. Although

the