May They Do That? — a school prayer quiz

  1. The student body of a public high school votes unanimously in favor of including prayer in the graduation ceremony. The ceremony is held in the school gymnasium. May a student speaker include a prayer?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  2. A 10-year-old boy brings a Bible to school to read during free time and independent reading. May he do that?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  3. A student sitting in the school cafeteria bows her head and silently says grace before eating her lunch. May she do that?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  4. A school sends to each home a letter asking for parents to sign a release form. This consent form would allow schools to give their children’s names to Partners in Prayer. The group’s members adopt classrooms and pray for students. May the school do that?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  5. A large city school system adds a unit on historical developments in religious thought in its world history program. This unit includes teaching about major world religions. May schools do that?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  6. Teachers in the English department of a high school, discovering that students did not understand the allusions found in poetry, added a study of the Bible as literature in its tenth grade program. May the English department do that?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  7. In Pennsylvania and Baltimore schools, authorities require all students to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Students are excluded from this activity if parents write a note requesting their son or daughter be excused from the recitation. May the schools require students to recite the Lord’s Prayer?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  8. The Young Buddhists Club prepares daily announcements and a bulletin board to invite students to Bodhi Day celebration. May they do that?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

  9. A student in art class draws hands folded in prayer holding rosary beads. The teacher tells her the work is inappropriate for a graded project. May the teacher refuse to allow students to draw or photograph work with religious symbols or items?
    • yes
    • no
    • maybe
    • I don’t know

Answers

  1. MAYBE. The courts have reached conflicting conclusions under the federal Constitution on student-initiated prayer at graduation. In Lee v. Weisman , the Supreme Court held that school-sponsored prayer at graduation ceremonies violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

    In 1993 the Justices declined to hear a Texas case upholding the practice of graduation prayer. In Jones v. Clear Creek Independent School District, 1) the prayer was student-initiated, 2) the prayer was student-led, and 3) the prayer was “nonsectarian” and “non-proselytizing.” See Finding Common Ground, chapter 12, for a detailed discussion of the constitutional questions raised in the Jones model.

    Although the Sante Fe Independent School District, petitioner, v. Jane Doe, applied to school-sponsored prayer at football games, Justice Stevens in the opinion of the Court did address the issue of students voting to express their desires: “Elections and a student speaker do not turn public speech into private speech.”

  2. YES. In the classroom students have the right to pray quietly or read religious material except when required to be actively engaged in school activities.

  3. YES. In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations.

  4. PROBABLY NOT. A federal district court has no binding legal authority on any other court. U.S. District Judge James Trimble ruled Jan. 25, 2001, that Beauregard (La.) Parish schools cannot solicit membership for the Partners in Prayer for Schools program, but schools can continue to give lists of student names to the program. The ruling made permanent a consent decree that the parish school board agreed to in December 2000, after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit.

    The ACLU became involved when a parent complained in 2000 about prayers at official school events. Parents also complained that the school sent out letters promoting Partners in Prayer. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the school board president and superintendent in November 2000.

  5. YES. The Religious Liberty clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution provide the civic framework for teaching about religion in the public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court in Abington v. Schempp (1963), Associate Justice Tom Clark wrote for the Court, “It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.” A study completed in 2001 found that nearly every state mandates the teaching about religion in public school social studies classes.

  6. YES. In Abington v. Schempp (1963), Associate Justice Tom Clark wrote for the Supreme Court, “It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

  7. NO. In Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) and Murray v. Curlett (1963), The Supreme Court found the Pennsylvania law and Abington's and Baltimore’s policies requiring public school students to participate in classroom religious exercises in violation the religious freedom of students as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The required activities encroached on both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment since the readings and recitations were essentially religious ceremonies and were “intended by the State to be so.” Furthermore, argued Justice Clark, the ability of a parent to excuse a child from these ceremonies by a written note was irrelevant since it did not prevent the school's actions from violating the Establishment Clause.

  8. MAYBE. If other clubs in the school are given access to the school media, so must the Young Buddhists Club and all other religious clubs. If the other clubs are allowed to invite students to their club meetings, then the answer is YES. The key is equal access. The school itself may educate about and acknowledge religion, but not celebrate religious holy days.

  9. NO. Students may choose to create artwork with religious symbols, but teachers should not assign or suggest such creations. The use of religious symbols, provided they are used only as examples of cultural or religious heritage, is permissible as a teaching aid or resource. Religious symbols may be displayed only on a temporary basis as part of the academic program.


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