School prayer

School prayer

School prayer in its most common usage refers to state sanctioned prayer by students in state schools. Depending on the country and the type of school, organized prayer may be required, permitted, or proscribed. The separation of church and state, in the United States, is one legal reason given for proscribing state sanctioned school prayers. Freedom of conscience, as in Canada, is another. Another argument is that public schools should remain neutral concerning religious issues. Prayer in school is allowed if it is a private organization (like a private school), some governments are trying to also discourage this.

United States

By the 1990s the courts began addressing prayer at school extracurricular with less clarity. Prayer in public schools is legal and one cannot go to jail for praying at school. While some courts allowed student prayers from the podium at graduation exercises, a federal appellate court in Houston ruled in 1999 that the recent controversy has revolved around prayer at school athletics events. Guidance was provided by the Supreme Court in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe [2000] when it upheld a lower court ruling invalidating prayers conducted over the public address system prior to high school games at state school facilities before a school-gathered audience.

Those in favor of sponsored prayer in state schools publicly often say that "prayer" is forbidden in state schools. [ [ When was prayer in the public schools outlawed.] ] Prayer is not and never has been forbidden. Regarding the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the courts have consistently ruled that students' expressions of religious views through prayer or otherwise cannot be abridged unless they can be shown to cause substantial disruption in the school.

Reinstatement of state-sponsored prayer has been attempted in different forms in a number of areas of the U.S. Some introduced a "moment of silence" or "moment of reflection" when a teacher may, if he or she wishes to, offer a silent prayer.

At Graduation

Recently, some high schools have banned prayer from graduation ceremonies. In May 2006, the ACLU of Tennessee convinced Munford High School's principal to ban official prayer at graduation. [ [,2845,MCA_25340_4719351,00.html "Munford Grads Go in Prayer"] Retrieved July 15, 2006] In response, students pulled out cards with the Lord's Prayer written on them and began to read. Also, some have concluded that the school's ACLU club faculty adviser has lost her job over the incident. [ [,2845,MCA_25340_4721819,00.html "Munford ACLU Adviser is Fired"] Retrieved July 15, 2006]

United Kingdom

In England and Wales, "the School Standards and Framework Act 1998" states that all pupils in state schools must take part in a daily act of collective worship, unless their parents request that they be excused from attending. [] The majority of these acts of collective worship are required to be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character", with two exceptions:
*Religious schools, which should provide worship appropriate to the school's religion (although most religious schools in the UK are Christian.)
*Schools where the Local Education Authority's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education has determined that Christian worship would not be appropriate for part or all of the school.

Despite there being a statutory requirement for schools to hold a daily act of collective worship, many do not. OFSTED's 2002-03 annual report [ ] , for example, states that 80% of secondary schools are failing to provide daily worship for all pupils.


British Columbia

Prior to 1944, in British Columbia, the "Public Schools Act (1872") permitted the use of the Lord’s Prayer in opening or closing school. In 1944, the government of British Columbia amended the "Public Schools Act" to provide for compulsory Bible reading at the opening of the school day, to be followed by a compulsory recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. This amendment appeared as section 167 of the "Public Schools Act", and read as follows: [ [ "BCCLA Position Paper Religion in public schools, 1969"] Retrieved December 04,2006]

167. All public schools shall be opened by the reading, without explanation or comment, of a passage of Scripture to be selected from readings prescribed or approved by the Council of Public Instruction. The reading of the passage of Scripture shall be followed by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, but otherwise the schools shall be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality shall be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed shall be taught. 1948, c.42, s.167

The compulsory nature of the Bible reading and prayer recitation was slightly modified by regulations drawn up by the Council of Public Instruction. These regulations provided that either a teacher or student who has conscientious ground for objecting to the religious observances may be excused from them. The procedure to be followed in such cases was outlined in the regulations, which follow in full:

Division (15)—Scripture Readings (Section 167)

15.01 Where a teacher sends a written notice to the Board of School Trustees or official trustee by whom he is employed that he has conscientious objections to conducting the. ceremony of reading prescribed selections from the Bible and reciting the Lord’s Prayer (as provided by Section 167 of the Public Schools Act), he shall be excused from such duty, and in such case it shall be the duty of the Board of School Trustees or official trustee concerned to arrange with the Principal to have the ceremony conducted by some other teacher in the school, or by a school trustee, or, where neither of these alternatives is possible, by one of the senior pupils of the school or by some other suitable person other than an ordained member of a religious sect or denomination.
15.02 Where the parent or guardian of any pupil attending a public school sends a written notice to the teacher of the pupil stating that for conscientious reasons he does not wish the pupil to attend the ceremony of reading prescribed selections from the Bible and reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of school, the teacher shall excuse the pupil from attendance at such ceremony and at his discretion may assign the pupil some other useful employment at school during that period, but the pupil so excused shall not be deprived of any other benefits of the school by reason of his non-attendance at the ceremony.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms received royal assent. Section 2 of the charter guaranteeing freedom of conscience and freedom of religion trumped Section 167 of the "Public Schools Act (1872)."

The challenges to Christian opening and closing exercises occurred mainly in Ontario with the crucial case being fought in The Ontario Court of Appeal in 1988. [* [ "Charter section 2(a) cases"] Retrieved December 04, 2006]

Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education (Director)

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the use of the Lord’s Prayer in opening exercises in public schools offended the Charter s. 2(a). 1988. (1988), 65 O.R. (2d) 641, 29 O.A.C. 23 (C.A.).

The education regulations did not require the use of the Lord's Prayer and there was an exemption provision. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the regulation infringed religious freedom because schools could use only the Lord's Prayer rather than a more inclusive approach. The exemption provision actually stigmatized children and coerced them into a religious observance which was offensive to them.

The Ontario Court of Appeal was persuaded by the argument that the need to seek exemption from Christian exercises is itself a form of religious discrimination. The judges described as insensitive the position of the respondents that it was beneficial for the minority children to confront the fact of their difference from the majority. In 1989, Joan Russow challenged, in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the "Public Schools Act (1872)"’s requirement that in British Columbia all public schools were to be opened with the Lord’s Prayer and a Bible reading. The argument was similar to the Zylberberg case and the result was the same with the offending words in the act being struck out as being inconsistent with freedom of conscience and religion guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Russow v. British ColumbiaThe B.C. Supreme Court follows Zylberberg case to strike down use of the Lord’s Prayer in schools. 1989. (1989), 35 B.C.L.R. (2d) 29 (S.C.)The British Columbia Supreme Court incorporates the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision in Zylberberg in its entirety.

From 1871 to 1989, observance of school prayer had declined.

With the unfavorable court decision, the requirement for Christian morning exercises was replaced with the following clauses found in the "School Act (1996)" in British Columbia. [* [ "School Act (1996)] ]


76 (1) All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and nonsectarianprinciples.
(2) The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school.


As a declared 'laicist' (roughly 'religiously neutral', secular) state, France has no school prayers. In fact, public servants are advised to keep their religious faith private, and may be censured if they display it too openly. The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools goes beyond restricting prayer in schools, and bans the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by pupils in public primary and secondary schools.


Unknown to many people in the West, the predominantly Muslim country of Turkey is in the public sphere a strongly secular nation. In this regard, it is much like France, on whose system of laicism its founder Kemal Atatürk modeled the rules on religion when he reformed his country in the early 20th century. School prayer is therefore unknown, and suspected religious motivations can cause serious difficulties for public servants.


* [ "Ofsted Report 2002"]
* [ "British Humanist Association"]


External links

* [ The Case against School Prayer, a Q&A essay opposing school prayers]

ee also

*Separation of church and state
*Moment of silence
*Madalyn Murray O'Hair

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