First Amendment Facts: Graduation Ceremonies, Prayer and Religious Freedom – Freedom Forum

Each May, graduation ceremonies are an stimulate opportunity to celebrate the hard work of your friends, family and boyfriend students, and some people may feel moved to honor the juncture with a prayer .
But is this constitutionally allowed ? The legal history of prayer at populace school commencement ceremonies is complicated and controversial. sol, let ’ s starting signal with the basics .
The free drill clause of the First Amendment protects students ’ rights to voluntarily pray at school-sponsored events, whether it is by themselves or in a group. That means if you, as a student, choose to say a prayer mutely or aloud earlier, during or after the graduation ceremony, the Constitution protects your right to do so, american samoa long as you are not causing a “ significant break ” to the ceremony .
The constitution article, however, prohibits any form of school-endorsed entreaty. This means an individual representing a public school — like a teacher, administrator or outside node invited by the school — can not lead prayer at graduation, even if scholar participation in the prayer is optional.

This case law comes from Lee v. Weisman ( 1991 ), a case in which a Rhode Island syndicate sued their public middle school for inviting clergy to lead prayer at commencement. The school defended the practice, arguing that neither engagement in the prayer nor attendance at gradation itself were mandatary for students. But the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that even though engagement was technically optional the exercise created “ insidious and collateral coercion ” to participate in government-led religious bodily process, thereby violating the administration article .
But what about student-led prayer ? Can a school-designated scholar loudspeaker lead a prayer while at the dais ? Most likely, no .
In June 2000, the court ruled on Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, a case concerning student-led nonsectarian prayer conducted over the loudspeaker at a school-sponsored event. The court decided that even though it was a scholar leading the prayer, it still counted as politics lecture because it was a regularly harbor, school-endorsed rehearse occurring on government property. In other words, the Constitution prohibits public schools from regularly and intentionally place clock time aside for prayer, even if that prayer is student-led and nonsectarian.

There are other ways for students to express their religious identity at commencement, such as wearing religious attire. According to U.S. Department of Education, students are allowed to wear religious dress — such as hijabs, yarmulkes or cross necklaces — at school-sponsored events, a farseeing as the attire does not conflict with the preen code. While populace schools “ enjoy substantial discretion ” in dictating dress codes, they may not specifically individual out religious attire for regulation or prohibition .
In most cases, this means if a school allows students to decorate their graduation ceiling with non-religious symbols, they must allow religious symbols arsenic well. conversely, if a school policy states that students can not add any decorations to their graduation crown, this prohibition extends to religious decorations excessively.

This policy was recently challenged by a native american public educate scholar in Arizona, who argued the First Amendment protected her right to wear a scrupulously significant beaded, feather-adorned cap to commencement. In March 2021, the Arizona District Court ruled in favor of the school, affirming that the school ’ randomness policy to prohibit all decorations on gradation caps did not violate the First Amendment because it was applicable to everyone .
These legal boundaries may seem complicated, but they serve an crucial determination. As a student, you do not surrender your First Amendment rights when attending a school-sponsored consequence. Your right field to release practice, including entreaty, remains true at gradation. At the same meter, no student should ever feel coerced into prayer — or any religious natural process — by their school. The government has a responsibility to make sure commencement ceremonies are for people of all faiths and none .
Hannah Santos is religious exemption course of study coordinator at the Freedom Forum .

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