from ACLU Briefing Paper Number 3
"Church and State"
Is prayer in public schools constitutional if it is optional?
Officially-sponsored school prayer violates several of the
constitutional requirements cited in Everson. In two major cases
decided in 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court held that public
schools, being government institutions, cannot write prayers for sch
oolchildren or sponsor praying, Bible readings, or religious
observances of any kind in schools. Allowing students not to
participate in such activities, said the Court, is not sufficient
because the First Amendment bars the government from sponsoring or
promoting religious beliefs and practices. Some state legislatures,
in order to circumvent the Court's rulings, have instituted silent
prayer by mandating a "moment of silence" in the schools. In those
cases, the Court has held that the legislative inte nt and effect of
such "moment of silence" laws are religious and, therefore,
Can children pray in school at all?
Of course. Any child can pray on the school grounds so long as the
prayer is a private exercise, such as a prayer before meals or
reading the Bible between classes. However, school officials cannot
be involved in sponsoring religious exercise by setting the time or
place of these observances.
Published by the Department of Public Education
American Civil Liberties Union
132 West 43rd Street.
New York, NY 10036
Posted by Americans United for Separation of Church and State
8120 Fenton St., Silver Spring, MD 20910 ---