This week Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key issued an annual memo to public school superintendents statewide reminding them that schools that receive federal funds cannot stop students from engaging in “constitutionally protected prayer in public schools.”
Public schools must file paperwork verifying that the school has no policy in place that would prevent students from praying at school.
While courts have ruled that teachers cannot lead students in prayer in the classroom, the Constitution and federal law generally protect students’ rights to pray, read scripture, and form religious groups or clubs on campus, provided that they do not disrupt school activities. Students also are free to talk about religion or their religious beliefs as part of a relevant class assignment or with their friends during lunch or other free times at school.
That is why Family Council supports activities like Bring Your Bible to School Day, and it’s why we have said students are free to talk about Jesus or their church if a teacher asks them to write a paper about what’s important to them.
Commissioner Key’s memo is a good reminder that students do not check their religious liberties at the door when they walk into a schoolhouse.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.