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Colorado Prayer in Public Schools Laws

School prayer is a contentious topic around the country. Some people feel the First Amendment Free Exercise (of religion) Clause guarantees a constitutional right to express oneself religiously, including in public schools. Many feel that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits favoring one religion or another by permitting or encouraging prayer at school events, whether in the classroom, at graduation, or at sporting events. Both sides have a point, but it’s the balance between permitting the religious to exercise their faith and prohibiting the government from being involved or showing preference for one religion that’s critical here.

Some states do have laws that address prayer and religion in public schools. While Colorado doesn’t have any statutory provisions about this topic, Colorado schools must comply with federal law in this area. The following table explains the federal law regarding prayer in public schools, which also applies to Colorado.

Code Section Colorado has no statutory provisions or code on prayer in public schools. However, the Colorado Constitution, Article 2: Bill of Rights, Section 4: Religious Freedom explicitly prohibits requiring attendance or support of any religious sect or denomination, as well as forever guarantees the free exercise and enjoyment of religion and worship. This is similar to the U.S. First Amendment.
What Is Allowed? Colorado schools have to follow federal law and Supreme Court case decisions on religion in public schools. The Supreme Court has held the U.S. Constitution and the principle of the separation of church and state prohibits many school prayer activities, including:
What Must Be Provided for Religious Students? Schools must follow federal law and provide religious accommodations for students, if requested. For example, a Jewish student who observes the Sabbath on Saturday while SAT exams are being given must be permitted to take it on another day, or to have the day off for Jewish holidays. Also, Muslim students may request a break and a place to pray at specific times during the school day to meet their religious obligation to pray five times daily at set times. Another example is permitting a Christian child to read the Bible during a free reading period.

Colorado Day of Prayer Controversy

Colorado Governors Bill Owens and Bill Owens instituted and continued (respectively) the Colorado Day of Prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the state to end the Day of Prayer and won at the Colorado appellate court level. The judges found that Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations from 2004 to 2009 were predominantly religious, not secular, and amounted to the state government endorsing religion over non-religion. A Colorado Springs based evangelical Christian group leads the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The Colorado Supreme Court heard this case in May 2014. The losing side may appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.

Note: State laws change constantly, please contact a local attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state laws you are researching.

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