Tags: School Prayer | Prayer in Charter Schools | States | Religion | Legislation

Prayer in Charter Schools: How Do Rules Vary From State to State?

By    |   Thursday, 19 Mar 2015 03:45 PM

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer in public and charter schools, led by school officials, was unconstitutional. But many states have passed legislation to authorize prayers and moments of silence to break that ruling.

Twenty-nine states have such laws, many authorizing a "moment of silence" in which students can pray or meditate or simply reflect. For instance, Delaware has legislation that allows for two minutes of silence "to be used according to the dictates of the individual conscience of each student," according to FindLaw.

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Some states took action to pass legislation that re-emphasizes that students have the right to pray on their own. In 2013, Mississippi legislators passed such a law, but along with a focus on promoting open prayer in schools, which is covered under the First Amendment, was a portion of the bill that would allow guided prayer during announcements and sporting events, according to WJTV.

It is guided prayer that has been ruled by federal courts to violate the Establishment Clause, and organization's like the state's American Civil Liberties Union were concerned. Even if prayers were student initiated and led, it's a blurry line when schools mix religion into events.

"New state laws in Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina represent an attempt to allow students to express their faith at official school functions, such as athletic events and assemblies, so long as the students — and not the teachers and administrators — initiate prayer or discussion of God," reports NPR.

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But groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which monitor such issues, say legislation like the bills being passed in those three states is in essence doing what the First Amendment already does.

"Truly voluntary prayer is protected," Barry Lynn, of Americans United, told NPR. "No one praying over her cookies and milk is going to be arrested or stopped."

Bill sponsors, however, just want to make sure educators are clear about what can and can't happen in schools. There have been instances of teachers or others stopping students from praying or telling them they can't write about God in papers, something that is allowed under law.

"The school districts have been fearful — at least some districts have been very fearful — of what is the line of what we can do and what we cannot do," Ferrell Haile, a Tennessee state senator who sponsored a school prayer there, told NPR. "We feel like this is putting it more clearly into law, that they don't feel like whatever they do they're going to face lawsuits from one side or the other."

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In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer in public and charter schools, led by school officials, was unconstitutional. But many states have passed legislation to authorize prayers and moments of silence to break that ruling.
Prayer in Charter Schools, States, Religion, Legislation
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2015-45-19
Thursday, 19 Mar 2015 03:45 PM
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