Illegal But Common: Religion in Schools

A Christian worship rally in South Carolina featuring an evangelizing rapper may not seem out of place. But it should be when it occurs at a public middle school in defiance of federal law. Yet such events are increasingly coming to light as many Christians flaunt their faith in schools despite the law.

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separation of church and state in schools

Flagrant Prayer

The Supreme Court prohibited public prayer and similarly overt religious activities in public schools with two landmark decisions in 1962 and 1963. Yet the intervening 50 years have failed to quell the firestorm over the division of church and state. Today, displays of religion by teachers and administrators are common, especially in conservative, highly religious Southern states.

There are schools that post the Ten Commandments on their walls. In others, Bibles, crosses and other religious paraphernalia are prominently displayed. Then there are the rallies, prayer services and Christian-themed education.

Jefferson, South Carolina, is home to the middle school where the Christian rapper B-SHOC performed songs like 'Crazy Bout God' and 'Jesus Lean' before an all-school assembly. Recently, as students arrived at a high school outside of Pensacola, Florida, they were preached to by a teacher with a bullhorn. Also, in Baltimore, a principal held prayer services in order to help students before standardized tests.

Getting Caught

It's not clear whether or not these open violations of school prayer laws are on the rise or not. Yet their notoriety is growing thanks to the Internet. Many of the towns in which the most obvious law-breaking occurs are overwhelmingly populated by like-minded Evangelical Christians. Trusting in the safety of their communities, and hoping to spread their religious teachings, many individuals post videos of rallies and public prayers on sites like YouTube.

Within these communities, those who might take offense to the prayer in schools are often reluctant to speak up. As religious minorities, they face the prospect of being socially ostracized. Yet when videos are posted on the Internet, those outside of the community can help enforce the law. In South Carolina, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully fought the Chesterfield County School District. In January, the district agreed to end its widespread religious activities.

Christians Fight Back

The brazenness of many Christians in flaunting their religion in schools is not entirely due to living in insulated communities. There are many who cite the Supreme Court decisions from fifty years ago as the beginning of a moral decline that the nation has suffered from ever since. Rather than fear religion in schools, they argue, we should fear those who seek to rid schools of religion.

Many see themselves as religious activists, which can be logically in line with their evangelical faith. They often argue that their First Amendment rights are under fire when students are prohibited from praying in schools or sharing devotional messages. While these actions can be legally protected, there is often confusion on where the line should be drawn. As happened in South Carolina, even the cases that seem most clearly in violation of the law may need to go before the courts in order to find resolution.

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