NEW SCHOOL PRAYER GUIDELINES

The attached article discusses the new guidelines for prayer in schools.  It appeared in K-House eNews by Chuck Missler.  These new guidelines are a great step in the right direction.  There are two related links at the end of the page which provide more detailed information.

Let your friends, especially those with kids in school, know about the expansion of their rights to pray, read their Bibles, and share their faith in school.

God bless you,

Life Quest




GUIDELINES FOR PRAYER IN SCHOOLS

After the landmark 1962 Supreme Court decision Engle vs. Vitale, which ended school-sponsored prayer in American public schools, there has been confusion over whether students or teachers are allowed to pray, read their Bibles or engage in other religious activity on school grounds. This confusion has resulted in the violation of students' rights to religious expression, and lawsuits have ensued over issues as simple as a student's right to pray before lunch in the cafeteria.

According to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…" For years, the establishment clause of the First Amendment has been used to shove religious expression from American public life, to the damage of the "free exercise thereof" and "freedom of speech" clauses of that same Amendment. In August of 1995, the Secretary of Education issued guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools to clarify which activities were and were not constitutional and to prevent religious discrimination against public school students.

On February 7, 2003, current Secretary Rod Paige issued a similar set of guidelines, updated under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to make adherence to the guidelines a requirement for receiving federal funding. Under the new guidelines, once a year schools will have to submit in writing to their state education agency that they are following the guidelines in good faith. Those who fail to attest to their compliance in writing, and those who have been faulted for failing to obey the guidelines, risk losing their federal funding.

The new guidelines clarify the rights of students to pray and read their Bibles in public schools during school hours. "As the Court has explained in several cases, 'there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect,'" the guidelines state. Schools must neither encourage or discourage religious expression, and may not discriminate against activity simply because it is religious in nature. As long as students initiate the religious activity themselves, and as long as the religious expression falls within the schools' rules of order, it cannot be discriminated against. If students have free time during which they may engage in non-religious activities - recess, lunch-time, and so forth - then they may also use that time for religious activities such as prayer. Students may form prayer groups or religious clubs "to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups." If schools allow non-religious groups to promote their activities through posters or school newspapers, then religious groups, like Bible or prayer clubs, must also be allowed to promote their activities.

The rights of teachers are also included in the guidelines. While teachers must remain neutral and neither encourage or discourage their students' religious expression, teachers may pray or study the Bible by themselves or with other teachers.

The guidelines are causing controversy, however, because they include a new section condoning student prayer at assemblies. According to the guidelines, "Student speakers at student assemblies and extracurricular activities such as sporting events may not be selected on a basis that either favors or disfavors religious speech. Where student speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content."

Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticizes this position, stating that the courts are still not settled on the issue of student-initiated prayer, and arguing that the Bush administration has put its own interpretation into the guidelines. However, Kevin Hasson, president of the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, countered him. "What the guideline says is that if [prayer] is truly student-initiated -- if it’s not rigged by the school district somehow -- then the First Amendment protects it." This issue will likely cause considerable debate until it is resolved by the courts.

Schools and teachers, parents and students should discuss the new guidelines and become familiar with the religious freedoms students have in the public schools. They need to know they do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

Related Links:
  •  
Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer - U.S. Dept of Ed

 

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