The debate on prayer in public schools continues to rage on in the courts and in political arenas, but the U.S. Constitution is cited as the basis for most decisions on the issue, and that has consistently been interpreted by courts to bar school-sponsored prayers.
Most cases that go to court regarding prayer in public schools are judged on whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was violated. That clause says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
ALERT: Should Prayer Be Allowed in Public Schools? Vote Now
The Religious Action Center says that since the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale
, which is considered by many to be the case that “kicked God out of schools,” Supreme Court justices have “consistently ruled against school-sponsored worship, while permitting voluntary student-initiated religious activities.”
Other cases, such as Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe in 1995, questioned which events are considered school-sponsored, like football games. This case went to the Supreme Court, which determined that the prayer did violate the Establishment Clause, saying, “The Constitution demands that schools not force on students the difficult choice between attending these games and avoiding personally offensive religious rituals.”
The Religious Action Center pointed out that nothing stops students from praying in school.
“Private, voluntary prayer is not only permitted in public schools, but it is constitutionally protected,” the organization said. “What is impermissible is school officials organizing or conducting prayer or permitting such activities at school-sponsored events.”
The issue of prayer in public schools was confused when the U.S. House and Senate passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2001, the Action Center said.
“They effectively opened the floodgates for unconstitutional prayer in public schools by stating that federal funds will be denied to any local school district that prevents or otherwise denies students participation in ‘constitutionally protected school prayer,’” the organization said.
VOTE NOW: Do You Support Prayer in Public Schools?
Although current law “sufficiently” provided for voluntary prayer in school, the Action Center said, the 2001 ESEA pushed the Department of Education to put out new guidelines about school prayer. Those guidelines, issued in 2003, reiterated the findings from the various cases that went to court regarding school prayer.
“Although the Constitution forbids public school officials from directing or favoring prayer, students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,’ and the Supreme Court has made clear that ‘private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression,’” the DOE rule says. “Moreover, not all religious speech that takes place in the public schools or at school-sponsored events is governmental speech. For example, ‘nothing in the Constitution ... prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day,’ and students may pray with fellow students during the school day on the same terms and conditions that they may engage in other conversation or speech.”
Despite the specific rules laid out by the DOE, cases still come to public attention when school authorities stop a child from praying at lunch, as happened in 2014 in Florida, or from writing about God in a school paper, as happened in Memphis.
URGENT: Should Students Be Allowed to Pray in Public Schools? Vote Here Now!
Student rights are protected by the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution, the Center for Public Education said
. “Some summarize the twin Constitutional directives this way: Freedom of religion and Freedom from religion,” the center said. “In recent years that duality has been a magnet for lawsuits. For instance, from 1990 to 2001 the National School Boards Association wrote friend-of-the court briefs in 21 religion cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court or federal appeals courts.”
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.