1. News & Issues

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Public Schools Don't Have a Prayer

"Now I sit me down in school,
Where praying is against the rule.

For this great nation under God,
Finds mention of Him very odd.

If Scripture now the class recites,
It violates the Bill of Rights..."

From a poem by an Arizona teenager posted by
SCAPEL on 6/20/00- Read the Rest Here

American public school students can still -- under certain specific conditions -- pray at school, but the opportunities to do so are dwindling fast.

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Union Free School District No. 9 in Hyde Park, New York had violated the First Amendment by directing the Districts' principals to cause the following prayer to be said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of each school day:

"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."

Since that 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings that may result in the elimination of organized observances of any religion from America's public schools. The latest and perhaps most telling decision came on June 19, 2000 when the Court ruled 6-3 that pre-kickoff prayers at high school football games violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, typically known as requiring the "separation of church and state.". The decision is also expected to bring an end to the delivery of invocations at graduations and other ceremonies. (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe)

"School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it (tells) members of the audience who are non-adherents that they are outsiders," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in the majority opinion.

For the past 50 years or so, those not in the majority have become more vocal in demanding 'equal protection under the law.' This has so surprised and shocked the majority that they have adopted the mantle of victimhood. "How dare you tell me that I can't have all the students recite MY prayers in MY school! You are infringing my rights of speech and religion." Submitted by TWODOX -- June 29. 2000 -- Read or Respond Here

While the Court's decision on football prayers was not unexpected, and was in keeping with past decisions, its direct condemnation of school-sponsored prayer divided the Court and honestly angered the three dissenting Justices.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, wrote that the majority opinion "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life."

The 1962 Court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,") in Engle v. Vitale has since been upheld by both liberal and conservative Supreme Courts in six additional cases:

  • 1963 -- ABINGTON SCHOOL DIST. v. SCHEMPP -- banned school-directed recital of the Lord's Prayer and reading of Bible passages as part of "devotional exercises" in public schools.
  • 1980 -- STONE v. GRAHAM -- banned the posting of the the Ten Commandments on public school classroom walls.
  • 1985 -- WALLACE v. JAFFREE -- banned observance of "daily moments of silence" from public schools when students were encouraged to pray during the silent periods.
  • 1990 -- WESTSIDE COMMUNITY BD. OF ED. v. MERGENS -- held that schools must allow student prayer groups to organize and worship if other non-religious clubs are also permitted to meet on school property.
  • 1992 -- LEE v. WEISMAN -- outlawed prayers led by members of the clergy at public school graduation ceremonies.
  • 2000 -- SANTA FE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT v. DOE -- banned student-led pre-game prayers at public high school football games.

But, you can still pray
Through their rulings, the court has also defined some times and conditions under which public school students may pray, or otherwise practice a religion.

  • "at any time before, during or after the school-day," as long as your prayers do not interfere with other students.
  • In meetings of organized prayer or worship groups, either informally or as a formal school organization -- IF -- other student clubs are also allowed at the school.
  • Before eating a meal at school -- as long as the prayer does not disturb other students.
  • In some states, student-led prayers or invocations are still delivered at graduations due to lower court rulings. However, the Supreme Court's ruling of June 19, 2000 may bring this practice to an end.
  • Some states provide for a daily "moment of silence" to be observed as long as students are not encouraged to "pray" during the silent period.
"When I graduated, we had an optional 'baccalaureate' program, which was religiously oriented. It was held separately from the graduation. There was never an assumption that the beliefs of some should mandate religious exercises for all." Submitted by GEORGIAN3 -- June 29, 2000 -- Read or Respond Here

Why did this happen?
Since 1962, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that in "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," the Founding Fathers intended that no act of government (including public schools) should favor any one religion over others. That's hard to do, because once you mention God, Jesus, or anything even remotely "Biblical," you have pushed the constitutional envelope by "favoring" one practice of religion over all others.

It may very well be that the only way to not favor one religion over others, is to not favor any religion at all -- a path now being chosen by many public schools.

Can you really blame the Supreme Court?
Polls show that a majority of people disagree with the Supreme Court's religion-in-schools rulings. While it's fine to disagree with them, it is not really fair to blame the Court for making them.

The Supreme Court did not just sit down one day and say, "Let's ban religion from public schools." Had the Supreme Court not been asked to interpret the Establishment Clause by private citizens, including some members of the Clergy, they never would have done so. The :Lord's Prayer would be recited and the Ten Commandments read in American classrooms just as they were prior to June 25, 1962. (Engle v. Vitale)

But, in America, you say, "the majority rules." Like when the majority ruled that women could not vote, or that black people should ride only in the back of the bus?

Perhaps the most important job of the Supreme Court is to see to it that will of the majority is never unfairly or hurtfully forced on the minority. And, that's a good thing because, you never know when the minority might be you.

"Almighty God does not need Santa Fe or any other School Board's help in accomplishing His will. Evangelism and spreading Christian belief is the job of the Church. The reason so many are upset by this ruling is that they want the government to do the job of Church." Submitted by REVBOY -- June 20. 2000 -- Read or Respond Here

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.