The constitutionality of organized graduation or classroom prayer in public schools is an issue of continuing controversy in the United States. There are, of course, numerous policy arguments for and against allowing prayer in public schools, but I will be focusing on the constitutional issues and consequently will have rather less to say about policy. (I will disclose, however, that as a matter of policy, I think there are problems with public schools' organizing and sponsoring group prayer as part of graduation ceremonies or classroom activities; it would seem that Mr. Peck, Mr. Sekulow, and I all agree on that, if nothing else.) What perplexes me about this issue is why it continues to be an issue at all. When I think about prayer in public schools, I have a difficult time escaping the conclusion that there is really not very much at stake in the constitutional controversy over this practice. There are no constitutional obstacles to individual prayer in public schools, and the effect of the Equal Access Act is to allow student-initiated group prayer on most public school campuses. In addition, it is rare that prayers given in the classroom or other official public school contexts have significant theological content. Consider, for example, one of the graduation prayers at issue in Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court's latest decision in this area:
God of the free, hope of the Brave: For the legacy of America where diversity is celebrated and the rights of minorities are protected, we thank you. May these young men and women grow up to enrich it. For liberty of American, we thank you. For the liberty of America, we thank you. May these new graduates grow up to guard it.. For the political process of America in which all its citizens may participate, for its court system where all may seek justice we thank you. May those we honor this morning always turn to it in trust. For the destiny of America we thank you. May the graduates of Nathan Bishop Middle School so live that they might help to share it. May our aspirations for our country and for these young people, who are our hope for the future, be richly fulfilled. Amen.
Gedicks, Frederick Mark
"The Ironic State of Religious Liberty in America,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 46:
3, Article 6.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol46/iss3/6