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Prayer in Public Schools laws

Information on the law about Prayer in Public Schools

Although the United States Supreme Court ruled prayer in public schools unconstitutional in 1962, many individual states have not taken action to conform with the Court's edict. Until the early 1960s, there were no laws on the subject of prayer in schools, though some states' supreme courts have addressed the practice under their own state constitutions. After the Supreme Court struck down the practice—without reference to any specific legal precedent or established legal theory—many states responded by drafting laws authorizing prayers and moments of silence designed to avoid the Supreme Court's definition of impermissible activity. Twenty-nine states have enacted such laws. For example, Delaware authorizes a brief period of silence up to two minutes of silence "to be used according to the dictates of the individual conscience of each student"; other states' statutes authorize "brief times" or one, two, or five minutes of "silent prayer," "silent reflection," or "silent meditation."

The law in this area, though settled, is still controversial. There are strong efforts afoot to reintroduce prayer in public schools, particularly by individuals who maintain that the current crisis in public education (low test scores, violence in the classrooms, drug and alcohol abuse) began when prayer was made illegal, and, conversely, strong efforts to fight the reintroduction, particularly by proponents of the theory of the separation of church and state.

The prevailing theme in the proposals to reintroduce prayer in public schools is one of voluntariness. Such efforts, however, are doomed as long as peer pressure in the classroom is equated with state action; that is, as states cannot encourage a particular religious practice, peer pressure exerted upon nonparticipants in a "voluntary" program is considered coercive.

Table 16: Prayer in Public Schools

State Code Section Provisions
ALABAMA 16-1-20 & 16-1-20.3. Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration, shall be observed for meditation or voluntary prayer, and during any such period no other activities shall be engaged in; student-initiated voluntary prayer permitted
ALASKA No statutory provisions  
ARIZONA No statutory provisions  
ARKANSAS No statutory provisions  
CALIFORNIA No statutory provisions  
COLORADO No statutory provisions  
CONNECTICUT 10-16a Silent meditation
DELAWARE Tit. 14 §4101, A brief period of silence not to exceed two minutes to be used according to dictates of individual student's conscience. First Amendment read to students on first day.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA No statutory provisions  
FLORIDA 1003.45 Brief period not to exceed two minutes, for the purpose of silent prayer or meditation
GEORGIA 20-2-1050 Brief period of quiet reflection for up to 60 seconds
HAWAII No statutory provisions  
IDAHO No statutory provisions  
ILLINOIS 105 ILCS 20/1 Brief period of silence which shall not be conducted as a religious exercise but shall be an opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection
INDIANA 20-10.1-7-11 Brief period of silent prayer or meditation
IOWA No statutory provisions  
KANSAS 72-5308a Brief period of silence to be used as opportunity for silent prayer or for silent reflection
KENTUCKY 158.175 Recitation of Lord's prayer to teach our country's history and as an affirmation of the freedom of religion in this country, if authorized by local school district; pupil's participation is voluntary
LOUISIANA 17:2115(A) Brief time of silent meditation or prayer
MAINE Tit. 20-A, §4805 Period of silence shall be observed for reflection or meditation
MARYLAND Educ. §7-104 Meditate silently for approximately one minute; student or teacher may read the holy scriptures or pray
MASSACHUSETTS Ch. 71 §1A & 1B Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed for personal thoughts; voluntary prayer with approval of child's parents
MICHIGAN §380.1565 Opportunity to observe time in silent meditation
MINNESOTA No statutory provisions  
MISSISSIPPI 37-13-4.1 Student-initiated voluntary prayer permitted on school property
MISSOURI No statutory provisions  

Table 16: Prayer in Public Schools—Continued

State Code Section Provisions
MONTANA 20-7-112 Any teacher, principal, or superintendent may open the school day with a prayer
NEBRASKA No statutory provisions  
NEVADA 388.075 Silent period for voluntary individual meditation, prayer, or reflection
NEW HAMPSHIRE 189:1-b Period of not more than five minutes shall be available to those who wish to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and participate voluntarily in the free exercise of religion; no teacher supervision
NEW JERSEY 18A:36-4 Observe a one minute period of silence to be used solely at the discretion of the individual student for quiet and private contemplation or introspection
NEW MEXICO No statutory provisions  
NEW YORK Educ. §3029-a Brief period of silent meditation which may be opportunity for silent meditation on a religious theme or silent reflection
NORTH CAROLINA 115C-47(29); (29b) Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed and silence maintained; prayer by individuals on voluntary basis allowed
NORTH DAKOTA 15.1-19-03.1 Period of silence not to exceed one minute for meditation or prayer
OHIO 3313.601 Reasonable periods of time for programs or meditation upon a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme
OKLAHOMA 70 §11-101.1 Shall permit those students and teachers who wish to do so to participate in voluntary prayer
OREGON No statutory provisions  
PENNSYLVANIA Tit. 24 §15-1516.1 Brief period of silent prayer or meditation which is not a religious exercise but an opportunity for prayer or reflection as child is disposed
RHODE ISLAND 16-12-3.1 Period of silence not to exceed one minute in duration shall be observed for meditation and silence maintained
SOUTH CAROLINA 59-1-443 Mandatory minute of silence at the beginning of each school day
SOUTH DAKOTA No statutory provisions  
TENNESSEE 49-6-1004 Mandatory period of silence of approximately one minute; voluntary student participation in or initiation of prayer permitted
TEXAS Educ. 25.901 Student has absolute right to individually, voluntarily, and silently pray or meditate in a nondisruptive manner
UTAH 53A-11-901.5 Teacher may provide for the observance of a period of silence
VERMONT No statutory provisions  
VIRGINIA 22.1-203 & .1 School may establish the daily observance of one minute of silence; students may engage in voluntary student-initiated prayer
WASHINGTON No statutory provisions  

Table 16: Prayer in Public Schools—Continued

State Code Section Provisions
WEST VIRGINIA Const. Art. III, §15A Designated brief time for students to exercise their right to personal and private contemplation, meditation, or prayer
WISCONSIN No statutory provisions  
WYOMING No statutory provisions  

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