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Journal of Texas School Women Executives, Volume II, Issue 1 2013 The First Amendment provides for freedom of religion and protection from government imposed religion. It is also known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause (Edmondson, 2006). To debate the issue of school prayer in the context of the first amendment, those who support school prayer have argued that the original intent of the amendment must be considered. They contended that at the most basic level the authors of the amendment did not intend to prevent prayer in any public place. To support their argument, they referenced that at the time the amendment was drafted, the First Congress had a chaplain on retainer, and the congressmen publicly prayed. Additionally, the day after the amendment was proposed, George Washington declared a day of public prayer and thanksgiving (Edmondson, 2006). However, Stone (1983) argued that while the prayer supporters were correct, the act of praying in a public place was not the real issue. The core issue was the “special characteristics of school prayer” (p. 832). Although Supreme Court decisions on issues regarding religious exercises, including prayer, are inconsistent, most have found against allowing religious activity of any kind in public schools. For example, in the Engel v. Vitale (1962) decision, Justice Black opined that the State of New York had clearly sponsored religious activity when students were invited to recite a stateauthored prayer. In the School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) decision, the Court found that schools could not require students to participate in religious activities. Even so, Justice Clark explained that there was a clearly distinguishable difference between requiring students to participate in religious activities in school and activities such as oaths of office and opening legislative sessions with prayer (School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 1963). Therefore, while the framers of the first amendment did not intend to prohibit public prayer, they offered no specific explanation or clarification of prayer in schools and the idea of forcing impressionable children to participate in largely Protestant religious activities regardless of their particular faith. Stone (1983) argued that even if clarification had been included, schools have changed significantly since the amendment was written over 200 years ago. Additionally, he argued that the spirit of the amendment was to prevent the comingling of church and state (Stone, 1983). History of the Debate Americans today have forgotten that religion was an important part of American education for the first 150 years of the existence of the nation. All students participated in largely Protestant religious activities, read the King James Bible, sang hymns, and prayed routinely. The New York Free School established in 1805 publicly announced at its opening that its primary purpose, albeit nonsectarian, was “ to inculcate the sublime truths of religion and morality contained in the Holy Scriptures" (Green, p. 851). While the school claimed to not promote a specific religion, teachers were required to “embrace every favorable opportunity of inculcating the general truths of Christianity, and the primary importance of practical religious and moral duty, as founded on the precepts of the Holy Scriptures” (Green, p. 851). In 1834 the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the Free School Act to create a public school system for the state. Any existing school district whose citizens voted for a tax to maintain their school would receive money from the state school fund (Lannie & Diethorn, 1968). Philadelphia schools generally began the day with a Bible reading from the King James Bible. Although the 1834 law that established the school fund did not address religion, the State Board of Controllers made it clear when challenged that schools could not conduct sectarian activities because 3

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JTWSE—Volume 2  

JTWSE—Volume 2  

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