Americans United applauds updated federal guidance on religion and prayer in public schools

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement today in response to the Department of Education updating federal guidance on religious expression and prayer in public schools:

“We applaud the Biden administration for updating the guidance, which centers the religious freedom of public school students. As the administration reaffirms, public schools must be open and inclusive for students of every religion and none.

“Perhaps most importantly, the guidance emphasizes that public school employees, including teachers and coaches, may not coerce students to pray. Nothing about the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District changes the fact that the Constitution prohibits public schools from sponsoring prayer. This line has always been clear: Public school employees and officials cannot take advantage of their power and position to impose their personal religion on a captive audience of schoolchildren.

Christian Nationalist groups distorting Kennedy decision

“The Christian Nationalist groups that pushed the Kennedy case are distorting the decision by arguing that public schools can now sponsor prayer. In Kennedy, the Court’s conservative majority concluded that the coach could say a short, quiet, private prayer during his personal time and while his students were otherwise occupied. Even though this was a ‘deceitful narrative,’ the Court based its ruling squarely on that fact pattern. The Department, lower courts, and school districts must take the Kennedy majority at its word. As the guidance explains, they cannot permit employees to ‘compel, coerce, persuade, or encourage students to join in the employee’s prayer or other religious activity, and a school may take reasonable measures to ensure that students are not pressured or encouraged to join in the private prayer of their teachers or coaches.’

“In order to protect public schools and the religious freedom of students and families, we need a recommitment to the separation of church and state, which ensures we’re all treated equally no matter our religion or belief.”

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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