Schools and Learning

School Prayer and Religious Favoritism: 60 Years of Controversy

Ever since the Supreme Court struck down enforced prayer in public schools in 1963, religious extremists have been trying to force their beliefs back into classrooms and extra-curricular activities. But equality means that people of all religions and none should feel welcome in their own public schools and at school events.

Policies that mandate or encourage government-sponsored prayer or favor religious clubs use the power of government to force people to pray or adopt certain religious beliefs. When school officials, teachers, and coaches sponsor prayers, it sets students of other faiths and the nonreligious apart from those of the majority religion, excluding them and marking them as different.

Religious freedom means that individuals—not school officials or government officials — get to make their own decisions about religion.

What you need to know

No Pray to Play

A federal appeals court correctly ruled that Bremerton School District in Washington State protected students’ religious freedom when it stopped a high school football coach from leading students in prayer on the field immediately after games. AU now represents Bremerton in the ongoing appeals process.

Know Your Rights

Teachers, parents, and students all have rights that protect them from religious coercion and enforced prayer in public schools. Americans United explains it in our “Know Your Rights” guides, and encourages you to report violations here.

Student Clubs for All

AU is representing the San Jose public schools against a challenge from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which doesn’t want to follow the school district’s non-discrimination policies for student clubs. Although other religious and secular clubs follow the policy, the FCA demands the right to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

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