Sunday, April 17, 2016

Prayer in Public Schools

Is student led prayers okay in a public school setting? As seen in the Supreme Court Case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, Justice Paul Stevens wrote that student-led and student-initiated prayers at the school football games were found unconstitutional. The court held that by the school authorizing the speech by the students it was as if the school was allowing it. In Wallace v. Jaffree the court stated that allowing is not endorsing. The court found that meditation was allowed however found that allowing voluntary prayer was not. This means that adults who worked for the school are not allowed to lead students in prayer because they represent the government making it seem as if they are endorsing religion for the government.
In a public middle school in Missouri a pastor lead prayer before lunch in the cafeteria. The uniqueness of the situation however is that no parents and no students who were part of this filed a complaint.
Dr. Brian Wilson, the superintendent of the Hollister School District, stated that this was not an issue of freedom from religion but freedom of religion. He later goes on to state that "There's not been a parent of Hollister schools nor a student that has issued a complaint... However we did receive a letter  from a group out of Madison Wisconsin." The letter was from Freedom From Religious Foundation (FFRF) who was represented by Patrick Elliott who in a press release on Feb 16 stated that
"It is well settled as a matter of established law that public schools may not advance prefer of remote religion, It is unconstitutional for a public school to allow an evangelical Christian organization to impose prayer on all students.
Giving the group access to all students as part of school programming suggests that the school district has preference not only for religion over non religion, but also evangelical Christianity over other faiths. This sort of entanglement between religion and public education is inappropriate."
The school invited the Pastor over for lunch and not prayer however they stated that the students during the lunch decided to invite the pastor to prayer not the other way around.
It was also argued by Wilson that the students had a choice whether they wanted to participate in the prayer and that everyone did participate and no one was opposed to the event.

Although the answer may be obvious that students and the school should not authorize this form of prayer amongst all the students, what if all the students and all the parents allow for it? Although no complaints from the parents and students came in I still believe this is unconstitutional. It seems as if most if not all of the student body is part of a christian religious group. Something else that was taken into consideration was that the lunch is "open" and families and vocals are allowed to come enjoy the meal with the students. All this apart however I believe that the school should not represent a Christian culture. This is too big of an entanglement with religion and there should be a separation of church and state. In this scenario I would state that allowing for this behavior is endorsing it. There is no secular purpose behind this prayer led by the students and the "school." Therefore this should not be allowed to continue and the series of prayers which occur before lunch should stop. 


Liz S. said...

I agree with Richard that allowing for this prayer time seems like an Establishment of Religion by the school and therefore unconstitutional. However, in order for the school to be forced to change its policy, there must be a lawsuit in which someone negatively and directly affected by the prayer files suit. Since no one in the school has made a complaint about the prayer, there cannot be a lawsuit. I remember this being a similar issue when I wrote about Big Mountain Jesus. The FFRF searched extremely hard to find someone who wanted to complain about Big Mountain Jesus, because without this person negatively affected, they did not have a case. Therefore, because there is no case I don't think that the school has to change its policy.

Jim R said...

I would also like to argue that this is a violation of the Establishment Clause but from a different case precedent.

This case seems to draw several parallels with Engel v. Vitale. Even though there is no active learning going on within the cafeteria, this still represents a forum where people are a captive audience. In this captive audience, there may be people who are coerced to say the prayer even if they don't share the Christian values of the pastor. In addition, it is easy for students to tell if there are religious exceptions among the student body. Students who attempt to leave are noticeable and wouldn't prevent comments on them leaving. Finally, the religious duty is occurring in a public school. This is a violation akin to the church groups starting religious classes within the building in McCollum v. Board of Education.

Thomas M. said...

I would disagree that there is no secular purpose in allowing student led religious activities in schools. School staff, mainly teachers, should not be leading prayers at school events, but students should be allowed to if they wish. The counter argument to that would be that non-members of that religion would be offended or would disagree with it, but someone should not have to agree with something to listen to it. Students are allowed to express ideas, and that expression should include their constitutionally protected right to free expression of religion. Students expressing religious ideas should not be looked down upon as inappropriate, which would be disadvantaging religion.

Maddie G said...

I agree that the designated prayer time at lunch constitutes an establishment of religion. At a public school a part of the day specifically set aside for prayer is basically an endorsement of religion in general, and possibly a specific religion. There is also an element of coercion in this case, as students may feel peer pressure to participate. I also agree with Liz though that this practice will continue until someone with standing challenges it.