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Claim: Signing an e-petition to President Bush will help get organized prayer reinstated in public schools.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]
Origins: No federal law, as claimed in this petition, prohibits students (or teachers) from praying or mentioning God in American schools. The 1963 Supreme Court decisions in the cases of Abington School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett held that requiring students attending public schools to read from the Bible or recite prayers violated
Because of the prohibition of the First Amendment against the enactment by Congress of any law "respecting an establishment of religion," which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, no state law or school board may require that passages from the Bible be read or that the Lord's Prayer be recited in the public schools of a State at the beginning of each school day — even if individual students may be excused from attending or participating in such exercises upon written request of their parents.Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, such as Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, expanded that principle to include not only compulsory prayer, but also any prayer directed or led by school officials or offered at school-sanctioned functions:
[In a previous decision] the Court held that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way that establishes a state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so. The District argues unpersuasively that these principles are inapplicable because the policy's messages [i.e., "invocations" delivered by students over the public address system at football games] are private student speech, not public speech.These court decisions apply only to prayers conducted as part of school-sanctioned activities; students are still free to pray as much as they like in public schools, as long as such prayer is not part of a school activity or disruptive of normal school routine — no federal law prohibits students from praying between classes, at lunchtime, during recess, or even silently at their desks during class. Therefore, a petition requesting the lifting of "the prohibition of prayer in schools" is both vague and misleading.
The delivery of a message such as the invocation here — on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer — is not properly characterized as "private" speech.
Nonetheless, those who feel that organized school prayer has a place in public schools should consider whether signing an
Last updated: 5 January 2008
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