Prayer in School - A Review of Current Case Law & Constitutional Principles
Is prayer in school totally outlawed? Are there times when prayer in school is allowed? It seems many people are confused by the current state of the law regarding prayer in public schools. The purpose of this website is to provide guidelines for the lawful exercise of prayer in particular situations.
Excerpts from: Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary & Secondary Schools
(copyright, Jay Sekulow, www.ACLJ.org, February 7, 2003)
Prayer in School - Prayer During Non-instructional Time
Students may pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the same rules designed to prevent material disruption of the educational program that are applied to other privately initiated expressive activities. Among other things, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities. While school authorities may impose rules of order and pedagogical restrictions on student activities, they may not discriminate against student prayer or religious speech in applying such rules and restrictions.
Prayer in School - Organized Prayer Groups and Activities
Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and "see you at the pole" gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their expression. School authorities possess substantial discretion concerning whether to permit the use of school media for student advertising or announcements regarding non-curricular activities. However, where student groups that meet for nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce their meetings-for example, by advertising in a student newspaper, making announcements on a student activities bulletin board or public address system, or handing out leaflets-school authorities may not discriminate against groups who meet to pray. School authorities may disclaim sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events, provided they administer such disclaimers in a manner that neither favors nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.
Prayer in School - Teachers, Administrators, and other School Employees
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities. Similarly, teachers may participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies.
Prayer in School - Moments of Silence
If a school has a "minute of silence" or other quiet periods during the school day, students are free to pray silently, or not to pray, during these periods of time. Teachers and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from praying during such time periods.