Your Child Can Still Pray in Public School

Here's clarity amid the confusion: After decades of court struggles, students have the right to practice their religion

There is a fine line between what is OK and what is not when it comes to religion and public education in America. Yet the government cannot dictate anyone’s personal faith.

“All public school students are legally permitted to pray audibly or silently at school, before tests, say grace before meals, read religious holy texts or talk about God in class as well as freely share their faith with other willing listeners,” noted Jennifer Lee Preyss, a religion reporter and editor at the Victoria Advocate, a local newspaper in Victoria, Texas. The paper reported on “things about religion in public schools.”

Within a decade, religious expression was pushed out of public schools.

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state-endorsed prayer in public school violated the Constitution. In the case, Engel v. Vitale, a Jewish parent (along with other parents) sued New York State over prayer recited at the start of the school day in public schools. Again in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that start-of-the-day school-sponsored prayer, along with Bible reading, was unconstitutional after parents filed suit in Pennsylvania.

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“Within a decade, religious expression was pushed out of public schools in a way that was really wrong,” Kim Colby, an attorney at the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, stated in 2012. “Too many school administrators took that decision as a green light to try to eradicate religion from public schools.”

Related: Two Moms, a Bible Class, and a Very Ugly Lawsuit

Over the past 50 years, many court rulings around the country have dealt with issues regarding religion in public spaces.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that kids can’t pray in school. What the Court has done — and continues to do — is to strike down school-sponsored prayers and devotional exercises as violations of religious liberty,” noted Valerie Strauss in a piece in The Washington Post last year. “As a result of those decisions, school officials may not impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.”

Yet students can still bring their faith and religion into the classroom and into discussion.

The Victoria Advocate shared the following three facts about religion in public education.

1.) Students can wear a cross necklace to school. “Students are permitted to wear clothing or jewelry with religious messages, holy texts or Scriptures or symbols, as long as the messages do not substantially interfere with the operation of the school or are lewd, obscene or promote violence or drug use,” Preyss wrote in the Advocate.

Related: Montgomery Co. Maryland Teachers Attend ‘Official’ Seminar on This Religion 

2.) Teachers can teach on religion — but not endorse a religion. “Students may be taught objectively about religion, such as “‘The History of Religion in the United States,’ ‘Comparative Religions,’ or ‘The Bible’ and other holy texts as literature in public schools,” according to the same piece. “Schools cannot teach or endorse any religion as fact or better than another.”

3.) An annual Christian gathering at school flagpoles is perfectly constitutional. As Preyss wrote, “See You at the Pole prayer events and similar events with student participation are permissible before and after school hours, and school officials acting in official capacities may not encourage or discourage student participation.”