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Massachusetts Prayer in Public Schools Laws

Even though the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the establishment of an official religion, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled prayer in public schools is unconstitutional, the issue remains complicated. On one hand, students should be free to pray voluntarily, but on the other, schools must refrain from creating an environment that coerces students into any particular religion. Some states, including Massachusetts, walk the line between the two competing sides by allowing a period of silence for personal thoughts.

More information is available in FindLaw's Prayer in Public School Laws section and the links following this article.

Applicable Code Section

Massachusetts’ prayer in public school laws are found in Chapter 71, sections 1A and 1B of the Massachusetts General Laws.

What Conduct is Allowed?

Section 1A provides for a period of silence not to exceed one minute. The moment of reflection occurs at the start of each school day for every grade of all public schools. During the period of silence the classroom cannot engage in other activities.

Section 1B permits the school committee of any city or town to allow any student attending its public schools to voluntarily pray if the child’s parent has given permission. If allowed, the praying must occur before the start of the daily school session. A town or school that permits voluntary prayer cannot be denied schools funds from the commonwealth.

Moment of Silence and the U.S. Constitution The Establishment Clause of the Fist Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting or creating an official religion. Public schools are considered agents of the government. Arguably, a moment of silent reflection does not violate the Constitution so long as the teacher does not instruct the students they must pray during that time. Students have the choice to spend the time praying or engaging in some other silent activity.

If you are the parent of a child in the Massachusetts public school system and you have additional questions about school prayer or student rights in general, check out the below resources. Keep in mind, state laws are constantly changing and you may want to consult a Massachusetts education law attorney for legal advice specific to your circumstances.

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