Separation of Church and State Home Page
What would a school prayer amendment do?
Most of the school prayer amendments proposed over the years
would do one of three things:
Amendments that would restore state-written prayers.
The Supreme Court decisions of the 1960's invalidated the
practice of state-written or state-mandated prayer. In Engle v.
Vitale (1962), for example, the Court struck down a prayer
written by the New York State Board of Regents, "Almighty God, we
acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings on
us, our parents, our teachers and our Country." Typically, these
prayers were recited at the beginning of the school day. Some
early prayer Amendments sought to restore the power of the state
to formulate such prayers and have them said on a voluntary
basis. Very few people currently advocate this type of
Amendments that would allow group prayers in the public
Recognizing the danger of having the state write prayers for all
students, many school prayer amendments instead seek to allow
teachers to lead classes in prayer on a voluntary basis. One
current prayer amendment, for example, reads as follows: "Nothing
in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or
group prayer in public schools or other public institutions." The
words sound innocuous enough, but the effect would be to allow a
teacher to lead a group of students (eg., his or her class) in
prayer if he/she so choose.
Amendments that would allow for voluntary prayer.
The vaguest of the school prayer amendments are those that simply
legalize "voluntary" prayer in the public schools. Another
recently proposed amendment, for example, stipulates that
"Nothing in this constitution shall prohibit the inclusion of
voluntary prayer in any public school program or activity."
Broadly interpreted, it would allow the state to include prayer
in any school program, so long as the prayer was said
voluntarily. It would also seem to allow teachers to lead their
classes in prayer.
Additionally, we note that, on the state level, many religious
conservatives advocate moment of silence laws, i.e., laws
that would establish a moment of undirected silence in the public
schools during which students can pray, meditate, or daydream so
long as it is done silently. While such laws appear to be
constitutional on the basis of recent Supreme Court rulings
(Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985), most separationists consider such
laws unnecessary (since school students already have the right to
pray). Additionally, separationists note that moment of silence
laws, while technically legal, can be implemented in an
unconstitutional manner as, for example, when teachers clearly
indicate that they wants their students to pray during those
moments of silence.
Separationists would object to all three categories of school
prayer amendments on both Constitutional and practical grounds.
Return to the top