October 4, 2013

Urges Schools to Protect Students' Religious Freedom

October 4, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

NASHVILLE - School superintendents across the state today received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee in response to recent reports of school-sponsored prayer in numerous public school football programs. The letter provides information on the First Amendment's requirement that public schools refrain from endorsement of religion.

"Our experience is that many public school administrators and educators struggle with how the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom apply to prayer during their school-sponsored events," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. "Our goal is to make sure that school systems statewide understand these First Amendment guarantees and commit to protecting religious freedom for all students, including athletes, and for their families who attend the games."

The ACLU-TN letter explains that the United States Supreme Court held in Lee v. Weisman that school faculty, coaches, administrators and invited clergy may not lead students in prayer or conduct a prayer during a school event.

In addition, with regard to the specific practice of prayer at public school football games, the Supreme Court established in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that a Texas school district policy permitting its student body to vote at the beginning of each school year whether or not to have prayers before football games also violates the Establishment Clause.

The letter cites the Court's finding that such prayers are unconstitutional because they are "'authorized by a government policy and take place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events.'" The Santa Fe Court also found it problematic to allow the majority to determine the religious rights of the minority.

Weinberg urged school superintendents to share the letter with principals and to contact ACLU-TN with any questions they may have.

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