Journal of Texas School Women Executives, Volume II, Issue 1 2013 A Brief History of Prayer in Schools Karla Burkholder Director of Instructional Technology Northwest Independent School District Abstract The controversy over prayer in public schools has spanned three centuries. What began as a fight over which Bible and what kind of prayer to allow in schools, ultimately resulted in neither being allowed. Although arguments both for and against school prayer are often defended as a First Amendment right of freedom of speech, the real core of the issue is the idea of governmentimposed religion. The evolution of the debate over prayer in schools is an interesting study in case law that will provide the woman school executive a foundation upon which to base any decision she must make on the issue.
Introduction The debate over school prayer in American schools has raged almost as long as the United States has existed (Green, 2009). People on each side of the dispute generally cite the First Amendment right of freedom of speech to support their argument (Stone, 1983). Yet, the core of the issue is not freedom of speech, but rather the idea of a government-imposed religion. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 76% of Americans favor a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in public schools, while just 23% oppose such an amendment. This is not new. In 1983, a similar poll showed 81% in favor, and polls in the past decade show about threequarters of Americans are consistently supportive of voluntary school prayer (Moore, 2005). Headlines from the Secular Daily News tell a different story: (1) “Americans United Asks Texas Public School District To Stop Imposing Religion On Students At Graduation” (Americans United, 2011); (2) “Unfair And Unbalanced: Fox News Offers One Side of Grad Prayer Story” (Bathija, 2011); (3) “Fire and Brimstone Delivered at Public Graduation” (Freedom from Religion Foundation, 2011). A school official leading a prayer at a school board meeting, or students praying in groups on school grounds are examples of situations that local districts may encounter. Knowledge of the history of prayer in schools will provide the woman school executive a solid foundation to defend any decision required on this controversial topic. The First Amendment Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (U. S. Constitution) 2