Prayer and Proselytizing in School
Our public schools are, as the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out in McCollum v. Board of Education, “at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny.” They should be welcoming and nurturing places for students and families of all faiths and beliefs. However, religious freedom in public schools can exist only if school officials maintain a religiously neutral environment.
Since the 1960s, the federal courts have therefore made it crystal clear that officially sponsored prayer and proselytizing is not acceptable in the school environment. Nonetheless, each year we receive countless reports from students, parents, and teachers detailing flagrant constitutional violations. The complaints describe many situations, including the following: in-class daily prayer led by teachers; the distribution of Bibles to students; prayer and scriptural readings at awards ceremonies, athletic events, and other school activities; school-day assemblies featuring evangelizing and other religious content; coach-organized and coach-led prayer at sporting events; school officials leading and participating in student religious clubs; and school involvement in the planning and promotion of religious baccalaureate services.
When public school officials disregard the U.S. Constitution’s mandate of religious neutrality, they not only violate students’ rights to remain free from government-imposed religious viewpoints, but also usurp their parents’ rights to decide and direct the religious upbringing of their children.
The ACLU works to ensure that all students, regardless of faith or belief, feel safe and welcome in our public schools so that they may obtain the quality education necessary to pursue their dreams.