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RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The limits and boundaries of the First Amendment in relation to public schools
have been and will continue to be tested in the courts, especially in relation to
religion. Several cases have dealt with the teaching of creationism and evolution,
the practice of religion, and the
religious use of public facilities.
Each case has contributed to a gradual
process of clarification of what
can and what should not be done to
ensure the separation of church and
state. Table 6.3 is a summary of U.S.
Supreme Court judgments in some of
PRAYER IN SCHOOL A number of attempts
have been and continue to be
initiated by school districts to incorporate
some form of prayer into public
school classrooms and activities.
One such case began when the school
district for Santa Fe High School, in
Texas, adopted a series of policies
that permitted prayer initiated and
led by a student at all home athletic
games. In June 2000, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in Santa Fe In-dependent School District, Petitioner v. Jane Doe that the clear intent of the district
policies was in violation of the establishment clause. The six-to-three majority
observed, ¡°the District, nevertheless, asks us to pretend that we do not
recognize what every Santa Fe High School student understands clearly¡ªthat
this policy is about prayer.¡± Later in the decision, the Court noted, ¡°This policy
likewise does not survive a facial challenge because it impermissibly imposes
upon the student body a majoritarian election on the issue of prayer.¡± In other
words, the district would be imposing a particular religious activity of the majority
on all, a clear violation of the establishment clause. ¡°It further empowers
the student body majority with the authority to subject students of minority
views to constitutionally improper messages. The award of that power alone, regardless
of the students¡¯ ultimate use of it, is not acceptable.¡± In concluding, the
Court stated, ¡°the policy is invalid on its face because it establishes an improper majoritarian election on religion, and unquestionably has the purpose and creates
the perception of encouraging the delivery of prayer at a series of important
In an attempt to clarify what is and is not permissible in relation to prayer
and other religious activities in public schools, the U.S. Department of Education
has published a set of guidelines for religious expression. Points from these
guidelines are summarized in Table 6.4
TABLE 6.4 Guiding Principles for the Association of Prayer
and Religion in Public Schools
¡ö 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.
¡ö 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 noncurricular student activities groups.
¡ö Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling
as is given to other noncurricular groups, without discrmination because of the
religious content of their expression.
¡ö 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.
¡ö 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. Teachers
and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from
praying during such times.
¡ö Schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious
instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation
in such instruction or penalize students for attending or not attending.
¡ö Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other
written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious
content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged
by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other
legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.
¡ö School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation or select
speakers for such events in a manner that favors religious speech such as prayer.
Prayer in public schools is the subject of seemingly
endless debates. As a teacher, you will probably be
asked to offer an opinion or be asked to include a moment
of silence in your classroom. Now is the time for
you to prepare your position. Certainly, you have a
personal position as to whether prayer should be permitted/
encouraged/required in public schools. On one
page, list the key points in your personal position.
Then review the position of the courts as outlined in
this chapter. Is your personal position consistent with
legal precedent? Annotate your list to indicate which
points are supported or refuted by law.
not sure what to do
These are your specific directions:
*On one page, list the key points in your personal position.
*Then review the position of the courts as outlined in this chapter.
*Is your personal position consistent with legal precedent?
*Annotate your list to indicate which
points are supported or refuted by law.
Which part are you having trouble with?
all of it