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School Prayer in Public Schools: 5 Times Debate Has Made National News

By    |   Monday, 24 November 2014 04:24 PM

The discussion of whether prayer should be allowed in public schools is a hot-button issue that often plays out in the national news.

Here are six times the subject has come up in national news in 2014 alone, just a small sampling of how often prayer in public schools is the subject of contentious debate every year:

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1. State Rep. Steve Hurst, an Alabama Republican, put forth a bill in early 2014 that would require public school teachers to read a congressional prayer every day. “If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t,” Hurst told The Anniston Star. “I wouldn’t be the one picking out the prayer.” The bill was still in committee in April.

2. Gallup released a survey in September 2014 that found Americans are generally in favor of prayer in schools, although support dropped slightly this year. Sixty-one percent were in favor of a “allowing daily prayer to be spoken in school,” down slightly from 66 percent in 2001, 68 percent in 2000, and 70 percent in 1999. Stories about the results appeared in media across the country.

3. New laws passed in North Carolina and Tennessee went into effect at the beginning of the school year in 2014. The North Carolina law, according to legislators, was put in place to clarify what can and can’t be done in regard to religion in schools and to make sure rights weren’t being violated. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a non-profit organization, said the law made it possible for students and staff to violate the constitution and told the state it would go to court if necessary to protect the separation of church and state.

The bill came about after a 2012 top news story in which a child in public schools was told to remove a reference to God in a poem she wrote about her grandfather for Veteran’s Day.

The politicians supporting the legislation said districts had interpreted court cases to mean that staff had to be hostile to religious expressions like prayer in public schools to follow the law, U.S. News and World Report said. This bill was simply a way to educate staff on being “respectful” without being hostile and to keep them from stopping protected rights.

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4. The Tennessee version of the North Carolina bill apparently was also inspired by a student being told to leave God out of a paper about whom he admired. The state wanted to express that “students should be permitted to religious expressions in school assignments … as well as in extracurricular clubs. It also extends that expression, with certain limits, to student-speakers during school events like football games, assemblies and morning announcements,” U.S. News wrote.

“There's a growing hostility to religion to Christianity in particular. The atheist movement has become more aggressive … we’re seeing a growing situation of discrimination against religious viewpoints,” Peter Sprigg, of Family Research Council, told U.S. News. “I don’t think people have an inherent right not to hear opinions that [they] don’t agree with.”

5. In September 2014, to defy a new district rule that required schools no longer open ball games with a prayer, a group of Tennessee cheerleaders bowed their heads and said the Lord’s Prayer out loud, and were joined by the audience.

The Christian Science Monitor looked at the 2000 Supreme Court ruling that determined prayers should not occur at school-sponsored events, especially those said over the public address system, questioning whether what the cheerleaders did violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. It’s possible, the newspaper said, that the cheerleaders have some “wiggle room.”

The Monitor quoted from the Supreme Court ruling, which said, “Of course by no means does the First Amendment impose a prohibition on all religious activity in our public schools. Nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during or after the school day.”

6. A California school district was sued in November because the school board meetings were opened with a prayer. The lawsuit alleges that the Chino Valley Unified School District board president said at a meeting, “Our lives begin in the hospital and end in the church and urge everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find him.” Many stood up to disagree with changing policies, including the Chino police chief, who told CBS Los Angeles, “All of the qualities you see in me came from my faith. They came from my belief in God.”

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The discussion of whether prayer should be allowed in public schools is a hot-button issue that often plays out in the national news.
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Monday, 24 November 2014 04:24 PM
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