The separation of church and state has never been a bright line. One of the central areas of overlap are public schools, with the big question being, are children allowed to pray in public schools? And, if so, are there any restrictions to when and how students pray in school?
If you polled parents, schools, legislators, and even courts in the Aloha State, you might get several different opinions on the matter. So what do the state’s say about when, where, and how prayer is allowed in public schools? (Spoiler alert: not much.) This is a quick introduction to prayer in public school laws in Hawaii.
Prayer in Public Schools
Even the Constitution appears split when it comes to the question of religious prayer in public schools. On one hand, the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech Clause prohibits the government (including state-funded public schools) from interfering with the free exercise of religion. On the other hand, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government (also including state-funded schools) from establishing or sponsoring any specific religion.
State prayer in public schools laws have attempted to balance this issue, and many of these statutes have faced significant legal challenges. While Hawaii has no specific statute pertaining to prayer in school, Board of Education Policy 2230 states, “Students may engage in voluntary, student-initiated religious activities and discussion as long as their behavior is neither disruptive nor coercive.”
Prayer in Public Schools Laws in Hawaii
Hawaii’s prayer in public schools statutes are listed below.
Applicable Code Section
No statutory provisions
What is Allowed?
The debate regarding what the kinds of religious activities allowed in public schools continues, though Hawaii’s religion in public school policy seems clear. The policy prohibits any employee of the Department of Education from giving any religious instruction shall in any public school during the regular school day, and states “Prayer and other religious observances shall not be organized or sponsored by schools and the administrative and support units of the public school system, especially where students are in attendance or can observe the activities.”
The policy does permit teaching about religion “where it is a natural part of the curriculum to study the history of religion, the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries, and the religious influence on the art, music, literature, and social customs of various cultures,” and allows students to meet in school during non-instructional time “to pray, read religious materials, discuss their faith, and invite other students to join their religious group if the school establishes a limited open forum for one or more student-initiated groups.”
Related Resources for Prayer in Public Schools Laws in Hawaii
State laws regarding religion and public schools continue to evolve. You can consult with an experienced Hawaii education attorney in your area if you would like legal help with a school prayer matter. And FindLaw's section on Religion at School can provide you with further reading and resources on this topic.
Contact a qualified attorney.