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Prayer in Charter Schools: 5 Times Debate Has Made National News

By    |   Thursday, 19 March 2015 03:00 PM

Charter schools are supported by taxpayer dollars and are required to follow federal regulations that define the separation of church and state, referred to as the Establishment Clause.

Still, just as in public schools, charter school teachers and administrators make decisions regarding prayer in schools that are challenged by organizations and parents.

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Here are five instances that the debate on prayer in charter schools made the national news:

1. In North Carolina's Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, students were reciting a prayer at lunch until one parent complained. When the school didn't respond right away, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter reminding the school that teachers could not lead prayer, and the school rewrote its policies, according to the North Carolina Policy Watch.

2. At a Washington, D.C., charter school in 2007, the headmaster, T. Robinson Ahlstrom, said prayers during assemblies and incorporated religious concepts into student speeches, according to the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "Parents, not school officials, are responsible for their children's religious upbringing," said AU executive director Barry W. Lynn. "The blatant melding of religion and public education at Washington Latin School must cease."

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3. A Minnesota Islamic charter school, the Tarek Ibn Zayed Academy, was challenged by a reporter at the Minneapolis StarTribune for violating the Establishment Clause. A substitute teacher told the newspaper that the student body, which was more than 90 percent Muslim, was led in prayer. "The prayer I saw was not voluntary," the teacher told the Star Tribune. "The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred." Although the Minnesota Department of Education said site visits had shown no problems with the charter school and religious practices, the newspaper said the school had only been visited three times in five years. The school would eventually close.

4. Some private Catholic schools struggling financially across the nation have converted to charter schools, a situation that was debated widely in the local and national media. Many doubted whether the schools could truly erase their religious focus to provide the separation of church and state required by law. "It's not good news for the Catholic schools," Sister Carol Cimino, the a superintendent for a diocese in Buffalo, New York, told Education Week in criticism of the change. "Charter schools try to be Catholic school-like: uniforms, local control, a lot of parental involvement, a little more rigor in their curriculum. They take the veneer of a Catholic education: What's lost is the ability to tell a child to respect others because we're all created by God."

5. The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged Texas schools over their participation in the Texas Christian Athletic League, saying the league's goals would "undoubtedly lead an objective student to believe that the school is endorsing religion over non-religion and Christianity over all other faiths," reports The Dallas Morning News. The Texas Can Academy in San Antonio and others left the league after the foundation sent a letter of warning.

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Charter schools are supported by taxpayer dollars and are required to follow federal regulations that define the separation of church and state, referred to as the Establishment Clause.
Prayer in Charter Schools, Debate, National News
Thursday, 19 March 2015 03:00 PM
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