Perhaps no aspect of the church-state controversy arouses more emotion and discussion than the subject of prayer in the public schools. After all, public schools are supported with taxpayer money. What believer would want his taxes to support an institution that prohibits his children from praying? What nonbeliever would want her taxes to support an institution that requires her children to participate in prayer?
Fortunately, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects both believers and nonbelievers from such a situation by mandating government neutrality between belief and nonbelief. The government--through its proxy, the educators and administrators who facilitate our schools--may not lead children in prayer or force them to pray a certain way. However, all children have the right to pray voluntarily before, during, or after school, and nonreligious children do not have to pray at all.
Yet some believers think they know better than the Founding Fathers and want to tamper with the Bill of Rights. They want to amend the U.S. Constitution so that the Government would legally sponsor and take over the activity of prayer. The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of the controversy by providing links to all sides of the issue. Students already have the right to pray and read the Bible in public schools; no one is suggesting that right be taken from them. Rather, the question is, should the government lead students in prayer in public schools?
This legal bulletin from the ACLU discusses graduation prayer, bible distribution, equal access to school facilities, and religious holiday parties.
Bible believers should oppose school prayer (1995) (Off Site) by Rick Lott
"Of all the philosophical inconsistencies of the GOP, the most confusing is their constant moaning about the intrusion of government into the lives of the citizenry while at the same time exhibiting an eagerness to legislate something as personal and private as religious conviction."
The text of a brochure mailed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to schools, school districts and state Secretaries of Education across the country.
ACLU on Constitutional Amendment on School Prayer or Moment of Silence (2002) (Off Site)
Some, like former Secretary of Education William Bennett blame the 1962 decision, Engel v. Vitale, banning official prayer from public schools, for everything from low SAT scores to high teenage pregnancy rates. But many educators and other experts tell us that these problems flow from the enormous and increasing gulf in wealth and opportunity and education, between the richest and poorest people in our society. A one-minute prayer or moment of silence in school everyday will do nothing to change that.
A c(4) lobbying group should not be allowed to organize through c(3) tax-exempt groups like churches. Politically active churches should not be allowed to retain tax-exempt status. Should elections and legislation be dominated by out-of-control fundamentalist and Catholic churches? Should churches be allowed to use their tax-exempt fortunes to topple our secular Constitution and establish "One Nation Under God"?
Is government sponsored prayer needed? (Off Site) by Susan Batte and Tom Peters
There is a secret about prayer in the public schools that the religious right doesn't want you to know: school prayer, like most religious activity, is legal. Completely, thoroughly, and absolutely legal. It was not outlawed in the 1960's; it has never been outlawed. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, the Supreme Court has not made schools a "religion free zone," has not "kicked God out of the public schools," has not "made it illegal to speak about God," and has not "made it illegal to pray in school." These claims are false, and the religious right knows this. Rather, the religious right popularizes these claims to make religious persons believe that their rights are being suppressed in the public schools, thereby gaining support for their political program.
"In summary, there is no evidence that suppression of religious activity in the public schools is anything more than an extraordinarily rare exception, or that these cases generally go to court, or that they are typically resolved in favor of the school. Students can pray and read the Bible. The law is clear on this point, and we are unable to point to any authority on either side of the issue that thinks otherwise. Religious suppression simply cannot be used as a justification for a school prayer amendment."
Prayer and the Public Schools (Off Site) by Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Most people of faith understand that the personal issue of prayer when manipulated by government can lead to dangerous consequences, including exclusion, octracization and even violence. For this reason the faith groups represented in this pamphlet work diligently to make sure that individual conscience is respected by rejecting calls for laws to mandate prayer in the public schools.
[Government-led] Prayer Does Not Belong in Classrooms (1996) (Off Site)
"The fact is prayer never left public schools. Individual students are free to recite voluntary prayers or to read from religious texts during their free time."
A Christian apologist urges Christians not to fight to institute government-led prayer.
Was school prayer widespread before 1962? (Off Site)
The religious right has a stake in making people think that the Supreme Court rulings of the 1960s destroyed a common and widely accepted practice of school prayer. In fact, laws requiring school prayer and Bible reading were not nearly as widespread as prayer advocates claim, were late-comers to the public education, were frequently and successfully challenged in court, and were on their way out when the Supreme Court handed down it's rulings in Engle v. Vitale and Abington Township School District v. Schempp.