Can students pray in public schools? Can teachers say ‘Merry Christmas’? What the law allows — and forbids.

Dec 10, 2018 by

By Valerie Strauss –

Can students pray inside their public school buildings? Can teachers say “Merry Christmas” to their students? Can religious music be played in public schools?

Yes, yes and yes.

There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is allowed and not allowed when it comes to religious expression in public schools ever since the U.S. Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools in a landmark 1962 decision, saying that it violated the First Amendment. In fact, in 1995, then-President Bill Clinton issued a memo titled “Religious Expression in Public Schools,” that said in part:

It appears that some school officials, teachers and parents have assumed that religious expression of any type is either inappropriate, or forbidden altogether, in public schools.

As our courts have reaffirmed, however, nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door. While the government may not use schools to coerce the consciences of our students, or to convey official endorsement of religion, the government’s schools also may not discriminate against private religious expression during the school day.

Schools are forbidden from initiating or sponsoring religious activities, including prayer, but religious groups are permitted to meet on school grounds after school, and students can pray to whatever or whomever they want at any time of day, as long as they do it privately and don’t try to force others to do the same. Religion can (and should) be a class subject — but not proselytized — in public schools, sacred music can be played in schools under certain circumstances, and schools can’t bar teachers or students from saying “Merry Christmas” to each other.

Source: Can students pray in public schools? Can teachers say ‘Merry Christmas’? What the law allows — and forbids. – The Washington Post

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