The ruling stated that, since the moment of silence was for the purpose of advancing religion, it was unconstitutional. This was evidently a case-specific ruling however, and the fact is that the Court has not ruled that this moment of silence may always be unconstitutional. There are multiple court rulings in other jurisdictions that have ruled the moment of silence allowable if it passes the test of not advancing religion.
Can a student say a prayer at a school graduation ceremony? The Supreme Court has not ruled that student-led non-sectarian prayer is not allowed at public school graduation ceremonies.
The question remains open and has been decided on a case-by-case basis. It cannot be encouraged by school officials, and prayers delivered by clergy have been ruled unconstitutional.
However, prayers at public school baccalaureate services are constitutional as long as the ceremony is distinct and separated from the graduation ceremony and not endorsed by school officials.
Religion in the Curriculum
While we answered this briefly before, it is an important topic and deserves more space. The teaching of religion in school curriculums goes back to the beliefs of our forefathers and the founders of this country, some believe. Should we not teach, in a historic perspective, the basic belief systems of those who established the United States? Wasn't it their personal and community creeds, thoughts, and deeply held beliefs that were the cause of their actions to find freedom of religion so important that they placed it first in the Constitution?
In Abington v. Schempp, Associate Justice Tom Clark wrote for the Supreme Court:
"[I]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment" (Freedom forum, 2001).
As long as a school follows the following criteria regarding the teaching of religion in the public school classroom, their actions are in accordance with the First Amendment (Freedom forum, 2001):
The teaching method is academic and not evangelical.
The goal is make students aware of various religions, not coerce them to accept a religion or "religion" in general.
Promote the study of religion but not the practice of religion
Expose the student to a multitude of religions, but do not impose any particular view.
Educate about all religions but don't denigrate or promote any one
Inform the student about various religious beliefs but do not attempt to confirm a student to a religion
The study of religion can be presented, not only in religion classes as mentioned previously, but as well in social studies, literature, and studies of the arts, for instance, in high school.
At the grade school level, sometimes opportunities occur during conversations about family life and around discussion of different ethnicities and cultures. Some educators think that studying religion as part of existing courses is a good idea because it helps students relate to the various roles of religion in history.
There are arguments on both sides that seem fair and reasonable. It is difficult to lay down a permanent policy one way or another. For instance, the rule that religion can only be taught in religious studies class. The vast majority of schools do not have religious studies classes. What do they do? According to the Abington vs. Schempp decision, there are other outlets that allow religion into the curriculum, be it on a "non-threatening" basis.
We are, as a country, a long, long way from ending the dispute over religion in the public schools and what role it should or must take. There are about 16,000 school districts in the U.S. We are de-centralized in this area to say the least. Over 50 million students every day are exposed to what adults teach them.
It is inevitable, with these huge numbers, that ideological differences will exist. And there are many groups on both sides that have increasingly strong feelings. Name-calling won't help.
Most public school officials want to do the right thing. Many students are caught in the middle. The Courts are doing their best to interpret the First Amendment, but sometimes, in a more activist role, contribute to the problem of interpretation as far as the role of religion in our public schools.
We have attempted here to set down the basic precepts as to what role religion is now playing in our education system. But that does not mean it won't change. It is an explosively charged issue in this country, and as long as there is the slightest chink in the armor, one side or the other will attempt to slip through it. Eventually, whatever the issue, it will probably make it to the Supreme Court, a decision will be rendered...and then the other side will attempt to figure out a way to get around it.
And perhaps that is the strength of our American system. We disagree. But it works.
ADL. (2009). Religion in public schools: Evolution vs. creationism. Retrieved November 17, 2009, from Anti-defamation league (ADL): http://www.adl.org/religion_ps_2004/evolution.asp
Boston, R. (2009, November). Prayers, preaching and public schools. Retrieved November 17, 2009, from Americans united for separation of church and state: http://www.au.org/media/church-and-state/archives/2009/11/prayers-preaching-public.html
Calefati, J. (2009, January 22). Religion in schools debate heats up. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from U.S. News and World Report: http://www.usnews.com/blogs/on-education/2009/01/22/religion-in-schools-debate-heats-up.html
Facing history and ourselves: Religion. (2009). Retrieved November 16, 2009, from facinghistory.org: http://www.facinghistory.org/resources/facingtoday/43?tid=26&tid_1=2
Fraser, J. (2000). Between church and state: Religion and education in multi-cultural America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Freedom forum. (2001, November). Religion in the public school curriculum. Retrieved November 17, 2009, from Freedomforum.org: http://www.freedomforum.org/publications/first/findingcommonground/B07.inPublicSchool.pdf
Ontario consultants. (2006). Religion and prayer in U.S. public schools, libraries, etc. . Retrieved November 17, 2009, from religioustolerance.org: http://www.religioustolerance.org/ps_pray.htm
Quinn, S., & Meacham, J. (2009, September 2). Should public schools teach religion. Retrieved November 17, 2009, from Washington Post: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/2009/09/teaching_religion_in_public_sc/all.html
Research center. (2004, September 21). Religion in schools. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from educationweek.org: http://www.edweek.org/rc/issues/religion-in-schools/
Riley, J. (2009, September 7). Schools should teach Christianity's role in U.S. history, say evangelicals. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from Christianpost.com: http://www.christianpost.com/article/20090907/texas-schools-should-teach-religion-as-u-s-history-say-evangelicals/index.html