The Practice of Religion in Public Schools

762 Words 4 Pages
The Practice of Religion in Public Schools

The “establishment” or “religion” clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Education Week, 2003, para. 2). It is from this clause that the idea of separation of church and state comes. It is also the basis for much of the debate regarding the practice of religion in public schools (Education Week, 2003). One of the big questions regarding the religion issue is where to draw the line between separation of church and state and religious freedom. The practice of religion in public schools can balance these two ends by allowing students to individually
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In 1995, the Clinton administration attempted to put an end to the confusion surrounding the practice of religion in public schools. As directed by the President, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley sent out guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools to every school district in the country. Since issuing these guidelines, students, teachers, parents, and school officials have found it easier to compromise on these issues. By spelling out exactly what religious activities are permitted in schools, the possibility for a lawsuit is diminished because everyone has a common understanding of what is and what is not constitutionally permissible (Riley, 2000). The guidelines are derived from the First Amendment. As a whole, they declare that schools cannot forbid students to individually express their religious views or beliefs. At the same time, schools cannot endorse religious activity, such as school-led prayer. (Riley, 2000).

The guidelines issued by the Secretary of Education list several religious activities that have become issues in public schools and proceed to explain to what extent those activities can be carried out. For example, on the issue of student prayer, the guidelines state that students are permitted to pray so long as it is not disruptive to others. On the other hand, prayer organized by schools at graduations is not permitted by the guidelines. Teachers