November 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

It’s an article of faith among Religious Right groups that students in public schools can’t engage in religious activity. But a new poll of the people who know best – students who actually attend public schools – shows that voluntary religious activity is alive and well.

A Pew Research Center poll released Oct. 3 surveyed 1,800 teenagers, asking them about religious activity in public schools. About half said they've seen peers wearing religious clothing and other articles of faith, and 39 percent said they've observed fellow students praying before school events. Additionally, 30 percent said they themselves wear religious jewelry or clothing, pray before lunch, invite other students to worship services or leave school during the day to participate in religious activities.

In addition, about 25 percent of teens who attend public schools said they've seen students invite friends to religious services. Sixteen percent said they often or sometimes see students praying before lunch. Eight percent reported seeing students reading religious texts during free time.

The poll also found that most students are aware of their rights. A large majority, 82 percent, said they are aware that teacher-led prayer in public school classrooms is unconstitutional. Only 16 percent thought it was legal. Eight percent reported being exposed to teacher-led prayer.

Most teens (54 percent) reported having seen bullying in their schools. But only 13 percent said it was due to religious reasons.

The poll also found that religion is not a topic of special interest to teen friend groups. Sixty-four percent said they rarely or never discuss religion with their friends, and only 5 percent said it’s common to engage in such discussions.