MUSLIMS ALLOWED TO PRAY IN SCHOOLS, BUT CHRISTIANS AREN’T
Have you seen this Facebook post or something like it? How true is it? Below, I pose some typical questions about the law and provide answers from my experiences as a high school principal of a dozen years, and as a professor of school law for thirteen. I have tried to provide a balanced set of questions – they are all questions based on real experiences – most of them mine!
I know many of the answers may not make many of the readers happy. Still, the responses are not based on my opinion; they are based directly on the Constitutional protections afforded to all and to each person individually.
Can students pray in school?
YES, as long as they pray of their volition. In other words, schools cannot set aside a time for kids to pray or to lead kids in prayer over the public address system or in the classroom. However, any time kids want to pray, they can as long as they are not praying instead of watching the teacher.
There is an old – and not very good joke about prayer: As long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school! Actually, there is much truth in that. It is entirely permissible for any student to pause and ask for the Almighty to calm their nerves before an exam.
Can Muslim kids be dismissed to meet the demands of Islam to pray five times a day?
YES, as long as the school or a member of the public does not direct the prayers. If the school does not allow this, the school is violating the Muslim kids’ 1st Amendment rights to practice their religion. The First Amendment says the government may not prohibit an individual’s free exercise of religion. This known as the Free Exercise Clause/
Along that same line, can students be dismissed to attend prayers or religious training during the day?
YES, they can pray in school just like their Muslim fellow students, and they can be released for off-campus religious training. In fact, they MUST be released. Students who ask to be excused to attend a weeklong camp meeting or to miss a day of school on Yom Kippur are excused. Free Exercise Clause again.
Can students be released for religious training taking place on the campus?
NO, this would school-sponsored religion since it takes place on campus. Because the school would set aside a time and place to meet, the school is considered sponsoring religion. This is known as the Establishment Clause.
If the school permits an imam to meet Muslim students to lead them in prayer on the school campus, this would be impermissible because the school would be sponsoring religion by permitting the imam (or youth minister, or rabbi) on campus to conduct the training.
Are Bible clubs permitted at school?
YES, as long as (1) the meeting is conducted by students, (2) is on non-instructional time, (3) is not led by an adult school or community member, and (3) does not create disturbances. Teachers may be asked by the school to attend, but to only to observe, and they may not be forced to attend.
The club can also advertise their club meetings to the same extent that other clubs are allowed – posters on the wall, P.A. announcement, etc.
Can kids bring Bibles or the Koran to school and read them?
YES, as long as students’ reading does not interfere with their learning or create disturbances. A student who wants to spend recess reading the Bible (or preaching for that matter) is permitted as long as he or she does not materially and substantially disrupt the educational program of the school.
Can teachers bring Bibles or Koran to school?
YES, as long as they do not display them prominently in a way that would be seen as proselytizing. Teachers can also wear crosses or other signs of their faith.
Placing a poster of Jesus behind his desk is not a good idea. Proselytizing, again.
Teachers are under more significant restrictions than students because of their influence on the developing opinions of students.
Can teachers join students at See You at the Pole and join hands and pray?
YES, because this happens before the instructional day and as long as the event is student-organized and led.
Can teachers pray at school?
YES, but NOT to lead kids in prayer. For instance, a teacher bowing his head and saying a blessing at lunch in the lunchroom is OK. However, leading his class in a blessing before they go to lunch is not permitted. To prohibit the teacher’s personal blessing before he ate, would be a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. To allow the blessing for the class would violate the Establishment Clause.
Are prayers by school people permitted before games or assemblies?
NO. Prayer is inherently religious and is a prime example of schools promoting religion.
Can students pray before assemblies or games or at graduation?
YES and NO. Yes, if they do it on their own without knowledge of the administration. No, if the school sets aside a time in the pregame routine or assembly or graduation for students to lead the group in prayer.
Can schools have ministers from different religions pray before ballgames or graduation?
NO. The First Amendment is not about equal access for different religions or denominations. It protects a single student who does not desire to be influenced by faith to be free of that influence from all religions or any single religion.
Can religion or the Bible be taught in School?
YES, it can if (1) it is comparative religion being taught or (2) the Bible or Koran is being taught as literature or history.
NO, if the teaching of religion or its holy book is attached in any way that promotes Christianity or Islam or Judaism or any other religion.
Can a school have “Have Happy Easter” posted on its school sign before spring break?
NO. This is promoting religion, a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Can school choirs sing religious-based choral numbers?
YES, because the courts have ruled that non-church choir choral music is tough to find.
Could a high school band form a cross in the middle of the field at halftime while playing “How Great Thou Art”?
NO, not even if accompanied by George Beverly Shae. Rest his soul. No amount of logic can separate those two symbols of the song and the cross from Christianity.
Can a high school coach and the quarterback club president arrange with a local church to have his players baptized before a preseason practice?
NO. It is outside the school day, but the coach is an employee, the event is on the school campus, and the baptism is overtly religious.
If everyone in a community or all parents in a school want their schools to pray, doesn’t that overrule the courts?
NO. It is a fundamental value in our society that it is constitutionally wrong for the government to violate the protected rights of a single individual even when a majority wishes it otherwise. If it were not true, segregation would still rule in much of our land.
“Majority rule” is not the foundation of our country. In elections, YES. In determining whether to pray in school or not, NO. That determination falls under the Bill of Rights or the first ten amendments of the Constitution. Through the Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment, the judicial branch is given the mission to protect the rights of every individual citizen from encroachment by their government.
If you have a daughter excelling in softball with eyes on a scholarship to the university, thank the Congress, the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, and the Supreme Court.
See you do really like the courts!
Now, as a political conservative and former high school principal, let me give you my personal and short opinion about prayer and religion in schools.
As a parent, I must decide who teaches my children about God, Jesus, religion, and how to pray. The people that Sandy and I endorsed were chosen when we joined the United Methodist Church.
Teaching about the Almighty is a parents’ responsibility.