Prayer in Public Schools

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17. Prayer in Public Schools

Although the United States Supreme Court ruled prayer in public schools unconstitutional in 1962, many individual states have not taken action to conform with the Courts edict. Until the early 1960s, there were no laws on the subject of prayer in schools, though some states supreme courts have addressed the practice under their own state constitutions. After the Supreme Court struck down the practicewithout reference to any specific legal precedent or established legal theorymany states responded by drafting laws authorizing prayers and moments of silence designed to avoid the Supreme Courts definition of impermissible activity. Twenty-nine states have enacted such laws. For example, Delaware authorizes a brief period of silence up to two minutes of silence to be used according to the dictates of the individual conscience of each student; other states statutes authorize brief times or one, two, or five minutes of silent prayer, silent reflection, or silent meditation.

The law in this area, though settled, is still controversial. There are strong efforts afoot to reintroduce prayer in public schools, particularly by individuals who maintain that the current crisis in public education (low test scores, violence in the classrooms, drug and alcohol abuse) began when prayer was made illegal, and, conversely, strong efforts to fight the reintroduction, particularly by proponents of the theory of the separation of church and state.

The prevailing theme in the proposals to reintroduce prayer in public schools is one of voluntariness. Such efforts, however, are doomed as long as peer pressure in the classroom is equated with state action; that is, as states cannot encourage a particular religious practice, peer pressure exerted upon nonparticipants in a voluntary program is considered coercive.

Table 17: Prayer in Public Schools
StateCode SectionProvisions
ALABAMA16-1-20 & 16-1-20.3Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration, shall be observed for meditation or voluntary prayer, and during any such period no other activities shall be engaged in; student-initiated voluntary prayer permitted
ALASKANo statutory provisions 
ARIZONANo statutory provisions 
ARKANSASNo statutory provisions 
CALIFORNIANo statutory provisions 
COLORADONo statutory provisions 
CONNECTICUT10-16aSilent meditation
DELAWARETit. 14 §4101-AA brief period of silence not to exceed two minutes to be used according to dictates of individual students conscience. First Amendment read to students on first day
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIANo statutory provisions 
FLORIDA1003.45Brief period not to exceed two minutes, for the purpose of silent prayer or meditation
GEORGIA20-2-1050Brief period of quiet reflection for up to 60 seconds
HAWAIINo statutory provisions 
IDAHONo statutory provisions 
ILLINOIS105 ILCS 20/1Brief period of silence which shall not be conducted as a religious exercise but shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection
INDIANA20-30-5-4.5Brief period of silent prayer, meditation, or other silent activity
IOWANo statutory provisions 
KANSAS72-5308aBrief period of silence to be used as opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection
KENTUCKY158.175Recitation of Lords prayer to teach our countrys history and as an affirmation of the freedom of religion in this country, if authorized by local school district; pupils participation is voluntary
LOUISIANA17:2115(A)Brief time of silent meditation or prayer
MAINETit. 20-A, §4805Period of silence shall be observed for reflection or meditation
MARYLANDEduc. §7-104Meditate silently for approximately one minute; student or teacher may read the holy scriptures or pray
MASSACHUSETTSCh. 71 §1A & 1BPeriod of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed for personal thoughts; voluntary prayer with approval of childs parents
MICHIGAN§380.1565Opportunity to observe time in silent meditation
MINNESOTANo statutory provisions 
MISSISSIPPI37-13-4.1Student-initiated voluntary prayer permitted on school property
MISSOURINo statutory provisions 
StateCode SectionProvisions
MONTANA20-7-112Any teacher, principal, or superintendent may open the school day with a prayer
NEBRASKANo statutory provisions 
NEVADA388.075Silent period for voluntary individual meditation, prayer, or reflection
NEW HAMPSHIRE189:1-b; 194.15-aPeriod of not more than five minutes shall be available to those who wish to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and participate voluntarily in the free exercise of religion; no teacher supervision; school district may authorize voluntary recitation of the traditional Lords Prayer in public elementary schools, as an affirmation of the freedom of religion in this country
NEW JERSEY18A:36-4Observe a one minute period of silence to be used solely at the discretion of the individual student for quiet and private contemplation or introspection
NEW MEXICONo statutory provisions 
NEW YORKEduc. §3029-aBrief period of silent meditation which may be opportunity for silent meditation on a religious theme or silent reflection
NORTH CAROLINA115C-47(29); (29b)Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed and silence maintained; prayer by individuals on voluntary basis allowed
NORTH DAKOTA15.1-19-03.1Period of silence not to exceed one minute for meditation or prayer
OHIO3313.601Reasonable periods of time for programs or meditation upon a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme
OKLAHOMA70 §11-101.1Shall permit those students and teachers who wish to do so to participate in voluntary prayer
OREGONNo statutory provisions 
PENNSYLVANIATit. 24 §15-1516.1Brief period of silent prayer or meditation which is not a religious exercise but an opportunity for prayer or reflection as child is disposed
RHODE ISLAND16-12-3.1Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed for meditation and silence maintained
SOUTH CAROLINA59-1-443Mandatory minute of silence at the beginning of each school day
SOUTH DAKOTANo statutory provisions 
TENNESSEE49-6-1004Mandatory period of silence of approximately one minute; voluntary student participation in or initiation of prayer permitted
TEXASEduc. 25.901Student has absolute right to individually, voluntarily, and silently pray or meditate in a nondisruptive manner
UTAH53A-11-901.5Teacher may provide for the observance of a period of silence
VERMONTNo statutory provisions 
StateCode SectionProvisions
VIRGINIA22.1-203 & .1School may establish the daily observance of one minute of silence; students may engage in voluntary student-initiated prayer
WASHINGTONNo statutory provisions 
WEST VIRGINIAConst. Art. III, §15ADesignated brief time for students to exercise their right to personal and private contemplation, meditation, or prayer
WISCONSINNo statutory provisions 
WYOMINGNo statutory provisions