I remember when I was in elementary school, we started each day with prayer and students were allowed to pray over their lunches in the cafeteria. In some classes we read from the Bible and openly talked about God, Jesus, the Bible and Christianity.
In the mid 1960s, several Supreme Court cases banned school led prayer and Bible reading in public schools. However, I still remember prayers in elementary school and even in some of my junior high school classes.
In today’s secular America, a school would be instantly sued if they or any of their staff led students in a prayer or initiated any discussion of God or Christianity. Consequently many schools are so afraid of lawsuits that they forbid anything having any hint of Christianity. Note that many of the same schools are also so afraid of offending Muslims that they allow Islamic students to pray during school hours, but not Christians.
This fear of being sued causes schools to forbid students from initiating prayer, especially at sporting events and graduation ceremonies. Students are failed on assignments if they included any reference to God, Jesus or quote from the Bible. Many other schools ban anything religious because of their own personal anti-Christian philosophies and agendas.
I know of a number of cases where some anti-Christian teachers who intentionally harass and bully students who are Christian and even fail them because of their faith, not because of their performance. One person I spoke to several years ago told me he was shocked when his science teacher asked the students on the first day of class who were Christians. After about half the class raised their hands, the teacher boldly told them they may as well transfer out of his class because he would automatically fail any student who didn’t believe in evolution but did believe that God created the universe.
What these schools fail to realize is that the Supreme Court rulings do not ban students from exercising their First Amendments rights of religion and free speech. Students can legally initiate prayer and even in class discussions about religion and if the school forbids them from doing so, the students need to stand up for their constitutional rights and not fold under illegal tyranny.
That’s exactly what some students did at Glendo High School in small town of Glendo, about 75 miles east southeast of Casper, Wyoming. A small group of students had the practice of gathering in a small circle and praying out loud, giving thanks for their food in the school cafeteria.
On October 15, Stanetta Twiford, Principal of Glendo High school told one of the students that they couldn’t pray until they got permission to do so. According to the local news:
“… Twiford accosted one of the students and accused the student of forcing their religion on other students. The school argued the (other) students (in the cafeteria) were a captive audience being forced to witness the prayer. The father of two of the students appealed to the principal, who stood firm on the rule.”
When Twiford refused to budge, the parents of some of the students involved in the praying contacted The Alliance Defending Freedom. Upon reviewing the facts, ADF sent a letter to school district earlier this month urging them to take a closer look at the incident and that their banning the students’ prayers was indeed a violation of their First Amendment rights. The letter read in part:
“School cafeterias are not religion-free zones, and they certainly do not involve captive audiences. Students in the cafeteria are not captive audiences because they can leave at any time or turn away from the quiet prayer in the corner …”
Upon receiving the letter, district administrators conferred with their attorneys. Dennis Fischer, Platte County School District #1 Superintendent, issued a statement that read in part:
“Our attorney advised me that yes, the students did not violate the Equal Access Act and I alerted Principal Twiford of this decision and to let the students know that they can pray before meals in the manner they had in the incident in question.”
“The students have since prayed at least once in this manner and will continue to be allowed to do so as long as it falls inside the guidelines of the Equal Access Act.”
“We have discussed this matter in detail at a board work session with the school board and our administrative staff in December. I feel our staff and district have a better understanding of student’s rights regarding prayer and how to handle future incidents and consider this incident closed.”
ADF responded to Fischer’s statement, saying:
“The First Amendment protects the right to pray in a non-disruptive manner not just in private but in public, too. The district has done the right thing in lifting its unconstitutional ban.”
However, this case should never have happened. Similar cases have are being reported all the time and are constantly being reported in the media. As many times as these things happen, you have to wonder how school officials can be so uneducated on students’ rights. It should be part of obtaining a teaching degree in every state. Students are people who have rights and educators need to know what they are. All educators should be required to take a full semester of laws and the constitutional rights of students, teachers and school staff so that these instances no longer happen.