Prayer In School Essay, Research Paper
IS IT LEGAL TO PRAY IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS?
Is it legal to pray in public schools? This is the question. The answer of course is, It depends. Both on what kind of prayer we are talking about, and more importantly, who is doing the praying. Because people are usually talking about organized classroom prayer, we will begin our there.
The Supreme Court has made clear that prayers organized by a public school violate the First Amendment, whether in the classroom, over the p-a system or even at graduation. The same rule applies whether the activity is prayer or reading the bible. Even moments of silence, if used to promote prayer, aren t allowed by the courts. A neutral moment of silence that does not encourage prayer over any other quiet, activity is allowed, even though many students choose to use the time for prayer. The bottom line is, the Court has said that it is none of it s business to promote or sponsor religious exercises, especially among young students who are at school as a result of their parents, or being made to be there by the govt. Public schools have the responsibility to protect the thoughts of every student. This includes children of various religious faiths, as well as those of no religious faith. Only by being neutral can the school be fair to all. This doesn t mean schools don t allow students to be religious, they re just not going to force it. Generally, individual students are free to pray, read their Bibles and even invite others to join their particular religious group as long as they are not disruptive of the school or disrespectful of the rights of other students. A student should not be allowed to pressure others in a public school. For example, a student may wish to pray before meals, read her Bible during study hall, create an art project with a religious theme or invite other students to attend church.
In addition, students have the right to gather with their fellow students for prayer and other religious activities within these limits. For example, students are permitted to gather around the flagpole for prayer before school begins, as long as the event is not sponsored or endorsed by the school and other students are not pressured to attend. A school is not required, however, to allow adults to come on campus to lead such an event. It is the rights of students, not outside adults, that are protected. Teachers, generally have no right to pray with or in the presence of students in a public school. As representatives of the state, teachers are obligated to protect the rights of all students including non-believers. A teacher who abuses this position may get fired.
If a school permits extracurricular student groups to meet outside of class time, the court requires that religious groups be given equal treatment. Again, teachers or other adults are not allowed to lead such meetings.
The most confusing and controversial part of the current school prayer debate involves graduation prayer. In the 1992 decision Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court addressed this issue. The case involved prayers delivered by the teaching staff at middle school graduation exercises in Providence, Rhode Island. The school designed the program, provided for the invocation, selected the teachers, and even provided guidelines for the prayer. The Supreme Court held that the practice violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion. The Justices based their decision on the fact that it is not the business of schools to sponsor or organize religious activities, and students who might have objected to the prayer were forced unwillingly to participate. The middle school argued that the graduation was voluntary, and that the children did not have to attend, but in the Court’s view, few students would want to miss such a huge event in their life. For this reason, some schools have even gone so far as to cancel many of their sporting activities.
In 1993 the court refused to grant an appeal in Jones v. Clear Creek Independant School District, which was a Texas case were they said a graduation prayer, and got in trouble for it. Although the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that its refusal to hear one of the thousands of cases docketed with it every year, does not mean that the Justices agree with the decision, and although the case is binding only in the 5th Federal Circuit ( Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi), it is being pushed on school districts nationwide. Some state legislatures, such as Tennessee’s, have passed laws encouraging schools to pattern their graduation procedures after the Jones decision.
The strange thing about this situation to the people was, that the prayer was student-initiated (voted on by the students), it was student led, and the prayer was not for secular groups. Although opinion is divided, all three of these factors raise significant questions. First, it is clear that constitutional rights are not subject to vote. The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to place some rights beyond the reach of political majorities. The Constitution protects a person’s right to freedom of speech, press or religion even if no one else agrees with the ideas he or she professes. Therefore, it is unlikely that students can simply vote and that make it okay to have organized prayer at a school-sponsored event.
It may also be irrelevant that a student, as opposed to an adult, leads the prayer. A graduation is still a school-sponsored event, and the students are still pushed to participate in a religious exercise that some might find offensive.
Finally, the requirement that the prayer be nonsectarian not only fails to solve the problems addressed in Weisman, it may aggravate them. While some might like the idea of an inclusive, nonsectarian religion, many do not. To some Americans the idea of nonsectarian prayer is offensive. Many Americans, for example, feel compelled to pray in Jesus’s name. However, the Supreme Court made clear in Weisman s case that even nondenominational prayers may not be established by government in the public schools. In addition, the Jones decision puts courts and school officials in the difficult position of evaluating the content of prayers to determine if they are too sectarian for use in a public school. There is also the problem of determining whether a particular prayer tends to lean toward a religion.
It would seem possible for a school to provide a place for student speech within a graduation ceremony during which time prayer might occur. For example, a school might choose to allow the valedictorian or class president to open the ceremony in whatever manner he or she wished. If they chose to utter a prayer, it seems unlikely it would be found unconstitional unless the school had encouraged the prayer.
By creating a place for student speech, the school may be stuck with anything the student wishes to say. While the school would not be required to allow a speech that had curse words, or sexual talk in it, the speech could include political or religious views that might be offensive to some people.
Although the school prayer debate has caused a lot of confusion for teachers, everything would be fine if they d remember the difference between a public speech promoting religion, which the Establishment clause prohibits and private speech promoting religion which the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses says you can do.
An increasing number of students are asking for permission to hand out fliers and religious books at public schools. Many schools aren t sure if this is a good idea, especially when the subject involves religion. Court decisions about this generally fall into two categories. The majority of courts say that schools should place some restrictions on what students hand out, but they cannot ban them altogether. A few courts on the other hand, say that schools can and should prohibit the students from handing out whatever they want at school. Of course, that would mean all students would not be able to give handouts. This is proven in the Supreme Court’s decision in Westside Community School Board v.. This said that the fear to violating the First Amedment is too great to take a chance, by telling kids not to give religious handouts.
Courts have generally upheld the rights of students to distribute stuff unless they create disruption or harm the rights of other students to suppress a student publication that happens to be religious. Just because schools may not prohibit the students giving out materials does not mean that schools have no control over what may be given out on school grounds. On the other hand, courts have repeatedly said that schools may place restrictions, such as the time, the place, and the way that the flyers or whatever are given out.
It is also likely that schools may insist on screening all student materials prior to distribution to make sure they re appropriate for a public school. Because the speech rights of students are not as free as adults, schools may prohibit the some types of student handouts altogether.
In addition, most schools are able to control the speech that goes on in a classroom, so they can probably prohibit the distribution of student publications altogether. Even down to the school newspaper.
This to most people seems like the school board is a bunch of atheists or something, but that isn t it at all. Along with allowing the students to discuss christianity, you would then be forced to allow them to talk about buddist, muslim, and a vast variety of beliefs. The schools see this as a threat, and a problem causer, so they simply tend to just not allow any of it.
Schools should obey the First Amendment principles by encouraging and supporting the rights of students to express their ideas in writing. On the other hand, students should not expect to have free access to their classmates and should be prepared to abide by time and place restrictions. Schools must continue to maintain order and discipline, because these two things are what school is all about.
Many states have laws authorizing students to be released periodically for off-campus religious activities during the school day. Such off-campus released time programs have been ruled constitutional by the United States Suprme Court. In an opinion by a researcher by the name of William O. Douglas, When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to accommodate sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.
Earlier, the justices had been asked to rule on a released-time program that provided for on-campus religious instruction. In this program, students were released from classes once a week to receive religious training in the public school. There were separate classes for Protestants, Catholics and Jews, and all religious instructors were under the supervision of the superintendent of schools. Students who did not wish to receive religious instruction were required to leave their classrooms and go somewhere else in the school for other nonreligious studies. The Supreme Court said that the use of public schools and attendance laws for religious training violated the First Amendment’s ban against laws respecting an establishment of religion The Etablishment Clause. In the words of Justice Hugo Black: Here not only are the State’s tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The State also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes through use of the state’s compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State.
Returning to the off-campus, released-time programs upheld by the Supreme Court, schools are not made to create such programs. The Court’s decision simply permits them. States are free to allow released-time programs when they are requested by students and their parents, but most states leave this decision up to individual school districts. If a released-time program is created, schools may not discriminate among religious groups. The program must be administered in a fair manner so that all religious groups are treated the same.
Schools are not permitted to endorse or promote religious instruction, even when it is held off campus. Telling students to attend religious classes may not be done at the expense of the school, and only those students whose parents have signed permission slips should be allowed to attend. Students who do not wish to attend may not be penalized. Of course, schools may not rent their facilities to religious groups for religious instruction during the school day.
The question some people ask, is whether schools may give academic credit for released-time courses. The Supreme Court has not made a ruling on this yet. There is very little to seperate many of these religious courses from a religious education class.
In my opinion, this is fairly cut and dry. All problems or rare occurances aside, the youth of America need to be taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. So what if some students decide they re not going to, or shouldn t be obligated to worship that particular religion. They can jut grin and bare it. I was force fed the theory of evolution, and to me that is as offensive or more so than what they would be being taught. It s a good idea to let students pray and worship at their schools. Instead of fighting it, I think we should promote it.