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The Practice of Religion in Public Schools Essay

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The Practice of Religion in Public Schools


The “establishment” or “religion” clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Education Week, 2003, para. 2). It is from this clause that the idea of separation of church and state comes. It is also the basis for much of the debate regarding the practice of religion in public schools (Education Week, 2003). One of the big questions regarding the religion issue is where to draw the line between separation of church and state and religious freedom. The practice of religion in public schools can balance these two ends by allowing students to individually exercise their religious freedom, so long as they do not interfere with that of other students.

Throughout the twentieth century, the United States Supreme Court has protected students’ rights to practice their religious beliefs, so long as they are not “disruptive, discriminatory, or coercive to peers who may not share those same beliefs” (Education Weekly, 2003, para. 3). In 1943, the Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette stated that students could not be “forced to salute the flag or say the pledge of allegiance if it violates the individual’s conscience” (First Amendment Cyber Tribune, 2002). The 1963 decision in Engel v. Vitale made school prayer unconstitutional, and similarly found school prayer at graduation ceremonies in its 1992 Lee v. Weisman decision (First Amendment Cyber Tribune, 2002). Student-led prayer at public school football games was found unconstitutional in 2000 with the Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (First Amendment C...


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...il). Religion in Schools. Retrieved April 30, 2003, from http://www.educationweek.org/context/topics/issuespage.cfm?id=60.
This website provided a summary of the issue of religion in schools and reviewed several Supreme Court decisions related to the issue.

First Amendment Cyber Tribune. (2002, July). Freedom of Religion: An Overall View of Religious Liberty as Defined by U.S. Supreme Court Cases. Retrieved May 3, 2003, from http://w3.trib.com/FACT/1st.religion.html.
This website listed several Supreme Court cases dealing with the issue of religion in schools and provided short explanations of each opinion.

Riley R. Religious Expression in Public Schools. Retrieved May 3, 2003, from http://www.ed.gov/Speeches/08-1995/religion.html.
This website provided a copy of the U.S. Secretary of Education’s guidelines on religious expression in public schools.


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