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District of Columbia Prayer in Public Schools Laws

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects both the freedom to practice one's religion without restraint and the freedom from government-sponsored religion, freedoms that sometimes come into conflict. For instance, students have the right to pray in school, but they must do so in a voluntary and nondisruptive way.

Also, teachers and administrators may not lead a class or school in prayer, since that would be tantamount to school-sponsored religion and was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962. To satisfy both concerns, many schools have implemented a "minute of silence" in which to silently pray or meditate.

Prayer in Washington, D.C. Public Schools: Overview

The District of Columbia offers no statutory guidance on prayer in public schools, nor does it establish a "minute of silence" for the purpose of silent prayer or meditation. Still, federal case law limits school prayer to only that which is silent, voluntary, and not in any way promoted by the school.

See FindLaw's Religion at School section For additional articles related to school prayer, including School Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance: Constitutionality.

Applicable Code Section No statutory provisions
What is Allowed? Federal law holds that school staff may not lead students in prayer or in any way "establish" or promote any religion in a public school. Although many schools have implemented a minute of silence at the start of each school day, Washington, D.C. offers no statutory guidance.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the decisions of higher courts, the enactment of new legislation, and other means. You should contact a District of Columbia education law attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

The Lemon Test: Does it Violate the First Amendment?

It is legal to discuss religion as a topic in public schools as long as it is used in an academic context and not proselytized. The so-called "Lemon " test says that a public school's policy involving religion (in order to be considered constitutional) must:

  1. Have a purpose that is not religious;
  2. Not favor or promote any one religion; and
  3. Not overly involve the government (or school) with religion

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Prayer in Washington, D.C. Public Schools: Related Resources

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