The Separation of School and State
Families, these days, are becoming more and more religious; yet they can not
decide if religion should actually be a part of the school day. Whether or not religion
should be allowed in public schools is a very controversial issue. Some people strongly
oppose it, and some strongly support it. In fact, they support it so much that the parents
are choosing to pull their children from the public school systems. For decades now,
since 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw prayer out of schools in the case of
Engle V. Vitale (“school prayer…” 1), the separation of school and church has been a
In recent years there has been a rapid growth of teen-prayer groups being
formed. These groups, mostly made up of Christian teens, raise some major concerns
(Newcomb 1). Although religious groups are not allowed to meet during the regular
school day, they can meet after and before school. As a result of so many groups,
children that are not Christian are beginning to question and try their own faith. These
children, the minority, feel left out and uncomfortable. In a survey that was conducted in
Lincoln High School, sixteen students were asked if they would feel left out if students
were publically leading group prayers. The results were varied, although most said they
One anti-religion activist states, “Public schools are for all children, no matter the
religion, and are supported by all taxpayers, and therefore should be free of religious
observances.” Another states, “Religion is private, and schools are public-so it is
appropriate that they shouldn’t mix (Riley 1). One pro-religion activist responds,
“Schools where clubs of different faiths operate, students can learn to coexist, be
sensitive to different points of view, while still strengthening their own spiritual and moral
beliefs (Newcomb 1). During those after school meetings a school official needs to be
present at all times to not only ensure that the club members promote their activities in a
way that doesn’t offend others, but also to prevent adult manipulation (1).
Many parents and adults consider the uprising of crime and the lowering of
values in society a result of taking prayers out of schools (“School Prayer…” 1). Public
schools are thought by many as pagan, anti-Christian, and unbiblical. When Christian
mother, Nancy McFarland’s daughter gave birth to an out-of-wedlock child, she blamed
libertine teachers for promoting premarital sex (a sin in a Christian’s mind). McFarland
states, “Public schooling is no longer about educating children; it’s about destroying their
minds” (Koerner 54). Children are beginning to feel torn between their parents views,
and the views that they have. When asked if they felt obligated to believe the same
beliefs as their parents and peers, the majority of the students surveyed said no. But,
what does this mean? According to Riley, “Religion should not tear people apart, it
should bring them together. The students of today should be able to make decisions for
themselves, and decide what they want. We are taking this ‘gift’ of choice away from
our children. We are forcing them to believe what we want them to believe” (Riley 2).
Several groups have begun to appear, both pro-Christian, and anti-Christian, to
try to separate church and state. Groups such as Exodus 2000, Rescue 2010, and
Separation of School and State Alliance have some very far fetched, and unlikely goals.
Rescue 2010’s goal is to “exit” every Christian child from the public school system within
a decade (by the year 2010). There are currently about twenty-million Christian children
enrolled in public schools. These groups believe that schools center on multiculturalism,
the absence of prayer, and sex-ed (Koerner 54). Barry Lynn, the executive director of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State argues, “It’s [Exodus 2000] based
on this premise that public schools are pure evil, and they are spiritually raping your
Most Christian parents that support school prayer view that not only does it
[prayer] help make the transition into learning smooth, and it also helps students to
resolve personal issues. Prayers give students, no matter the religion, time every
morning where they think about values and faith to help them through life. Many
students have problems and prayer gives them time for them to think about their issues.
Supporters view that starting the day off with prayer will not harm society. They see it
as a “way of allowing…students to clear their minds” (“School Prayer…” 1). One
supporter of organized religion in school states, “Kids are to often found dead as gang
members, or having children out of wedlock. Prayer promotes peace and abstinence in
almost every organized religion. It is absolutely vital to maintain moral health in our
society. Prayer may cause children to become better human-beings, better members of
society, and better parents for our young” (“School Prayer…” 1).
Many children and adults have been tried in the United States Supreme Court for
violating the court’s ruling of the 1962 case Engel V. Vitale. The ruling the court made
defines what the first amendment’s “Freedom of Religion” really means to us today.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the only person that had to actually utter a word
during the prayer was the teacher, and no teacher complained. Students did not have
to say a word, and could even leave the classroom if they desired (Bryce 26).
The latest, and widely publicized case that was taken to the Supreme Court took
place in Stephanville, Texas. Joel Allen, and Alan Ward, both 15-year-old football
players, decided that nothing, not even a federal court ruling-was going to keep them
from praying. On August 27, 1999, before the coin-toss of the school’s football game,
the two borrowed a P.A. system. Using the P.A. system, the two students led the crowd
in a prayer. Allen stated that, “We decided to stand for God, and overlook man’s laws,
the short prayer before the game is a tradition, and I intend to keep it that way. Here in
Texas, football and religion are taken seriously. Football is a religion.” Although the
court ruled that events like football games are “hardly the sober type of annual event
that can be solemnized with prayer,” Allen and Ward are planning a repeat performance
When someone is willing to go to such an extreme measure as to break a federal
law more than once for a cause they truly believe in, they should be recognized and
praised, not taunted and punished. “Sufferings gladly borne for others convert more
people than sermons” (dc 207). Robert Simonds, president of CEE (Citizens for
Excellent Education), brings up the point that the courts are actually doing these kids a
favor. As Jesus is quoted in the Bible:
“Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing
it, they’ve done you-and me-a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom
news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say, or how you say it. The right words will be
there. The Spirit of your Father will supply the words” (dc 146).
A libertarian stated, “There is a huge move toward more religious expression
among students during the school day. Schools need to make policies so that people
will understand the boundaries” (Van Biema 61). There are two “documents”that protect
and limit prayer in public schools. The obvious one would be the Constitution, or the Bill
of Rights; the less known one is the “Equal Access Act.” This document reads that all
federally funded schools have to allow religious meetings if they also host other clubs,
not related to the curriculum (Newcomb 1).
Contrary to what many think, prayer is, in fact, allowed in the public school
system, school houses, at the flag pole, in student religious clubs, and in the cafeteria;
however, it is not normally permitted in the class room when class is in session
(“Religion…” 1). The powers that the schools have to enforce these laws are limited
though. Schools are not allowed to stop a student from praying, as long as it doesn’t
disrupt the class, although it touches on the religious beliefs and tolerances of many.
(“School Prayer…” 1). The first amendment requires that public school teachers,
principals, and boards be religiously neutral, they may not promote a particular religion
as superior to any other (“Religion…” 1). Schools are also prohibited from many
religious related acts, such as: requiring students to recite prayers in class, public
prayers at high school games, requiring students to partake in a moment of silence,
promoting any one denomination or religion at the expense of another, banning the
wearing of religious clothing and symbols, and prayers before education meetings. It
also requires schools to drop a line containing the word “God” out of the Pledge of
Allegiance. Students can, however: Pray before eating, Hand out religious materials,
Freely talk about religion to peers, Study the positive/negative effects of religion, Carry
Bibles or any other religious text, and they can Organize prayers on school ground,
outside of the classroom (“Religion…” 1).
The topic of religion in school is very debatable, and has many journalists,
authors, and editors expressing their opinions through publications. There are some
very good sources that thoroughly explain the thoughts, debates, and actions of those
working for or against the combination of school and state. An article from the Internet
entitled “Religion in the U.S. Public Schools” is a really helpful source. There are lots of
lists of pros and cons, and numerous amounts of reasons why people are ‘pro’ or ‘anti’
school and state. It is a great unbiased source. Newcomb’s piece, “Praying at School,”
and Riley’s piece, “Religion and Public Schools,” were just as useful, and had a lot of the
same information. Van Biema’s article, “The Day God Took Over,” was not very useful
at all. The interview conducted with Mr. Matt Oxford gave an adults intake on the
subject. He more or less leaned toward being in favor of religion in school. The survey
that was conducted on six-teen tenth grade students at Lincoln High School in Lake City
was pretty much varied. Its hard to tell whether or not the students were answering the
survey truthfully, or if they were just messing around. Although the survey may not be
totally accurate, it does give a pretty good intake on what the students think. It is pretty
hard to thoroughly understand what the students want when only six-teen are surveyed,
but, it gives an idea. There was not very much information relevant to the sub-topics of
religion in school that I picked. The interview and the survey gave different results than
read about in any of the other sources. The information that was acquired from the
survey/interview gave personal and group feelings. It gives more of a local outlook on
this topic. No matter what type of media is searched, there will always be new ideas
and arguments being published; some sources just are more relevant than others.
Religion in public schools (church and state) is a very heated issue that historians
believe even Jesus was unsure about. Jesus stated, “Thou shalt not be as the
hypocrites are: For they love to pray standing in synagogues and in corners of the
streets, that they may be seen of men…But thou, when thou prayest enter into thy
closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret” (Riley
1). Robert Simmonds states, “You can only put people under the gun so long, I think we
are approaching a national revolt against the government that is unreceptive to it’s
people’s needs, and it’s children’s futures” (Koerner 54). Through all the arguing and
disagreements that are heard over this issue, not many are concerned with what the
students want. When asked if they would feel uncomfortable if the school day was
started with a group prayer, the six-teen students were pretty much varied. Some would
feel uncomfortable, while the same amount on about either other way would not care, or
Both the interview and the survey asked approximately the same questions. The
questions that were used centered around the opinions and the view points of not only
the students but also an adult. The questions that were chosen, were questions that
would maybe help to explain and find out exactly how the students feel. The results
seem to have proven that religion in the public schools is somewhat a “sore” subject that
no matter what happens, not everyone will agree whether or not religion should be a
part of everyday school life. From the information that was acquired from the
survey/interview, it can be said that students are less likely to take religious comments
as a threat. Mr. Oxford states, “By teaching religion in schools, not only Christianity,
mind you, the students learn diversity. Diversity is a necessity in today’s world, and this
should be looked at as a good thing. It will help if students learn that they will encounter
people of other religions in their life, and they will not and should not throw a fit about it.
Some adults are just worried their children will start to contradict them. We need to
have a little faith in our children” (interview).
The separation of church and state is going to continue to be a heated topic until
the “anti”and the “pro” groups dissolve and become one, a group that is looking at the
Bryce, Robert. “To Pray-or Not to Pray.” US. News and World Report. Sept.
13, 1999: p26.
dc Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks. Tulsa: Albury
Koerner, Brandon I. “When is it OK to Drop Out of School?” US. News and
World Report. June 12, 2000: p54.
McAshland, Norm. Personal interview. Nov. 10, 2000.
Newcomb, Amelia. “Praying at School.” Christian Science: June 16, 1998.
(Sept. 23, 2000).
“Religion in the US. Public Schools.” 1998.
Riley, Richard W. “Religion and Public Schools.”1998.
(Sept. 23, 2000).
“School Prayer: A Dividing Line of American Values.”1998.
(Sept. 23, 2000).
Surveys. Lake City, MN. Nov. 2000.
Van Biema, David. “The Day God Took Over.” Time. June 5, 2000: p61.