School prayer is a tough issue because administrators must balance two opposing requirements. First, a student can’t be prevented from exercising his or her First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Conversely, the school can’t promote any religion under the First Amendment Establishment Clause that requires the separation of church (or temple or masjid) and state.
Since 1962, public schools in the U.S. can’t lead students in prayers as the Supreme Court decided that’s unconstitutional. However, schools, including those in Louisiana, can start the day with a silent meditation where students may choose to pray. The following table outlines the prayer in public school laws in Louisiana.
|Code Sections||Louisiana Revised Statutes, Title 17: Education Code Sections 2115 to 2115.11, including:
17:2115(A) – Silent Prayer or Meditation
17:2115.1 – Official Prayer Prohibition
17:2115.2 – Student Participation in Religious Activities
17:2115.3 – Student-Initiated, Student-Led Prayer and Participation
17:2115.11 – Prayer, Student-Initiated, Conditions
|What is Allowed?||Each parish or city public school board must allow (but not force) schools to start the school day with a brief time of silent meditation or prayer. The law explicitly proclaims this “shall not be intended nor interpreted as state support of or interference with religion, nor shall such time allowance be promoted as a religious exercise and the implementation of this Section shall remain neutral toward religion.” As you can see, the issue of the separation of church and state was heavily on the legislators mind.
If public school students want to gather for prayer in a classroom or other school space that isn’t being used during any non-instructional time, they can. A school employee may have to supervise the student(s). Employees can even participate in these religious gatherings if it’s before or after his or her workday. Parents can also attend if they follow the school visitor rules. Members of the community can attend if invited by the students, such as to give a talk. The procedures of this must be the same as for any other student organization, such as the science or glee club.
|What is Prohibited?||Students can’t be required to participate in any religious activity at school. This is generally held to include sporting events, but a Texas cheerleading case may eventually end up at the U.S. Supreme Court addressing the issue of religious messages on banners at public school football games. Additionally, Louisiana law says student athletes can’t be prohibited from engaging in voluntary, student-initiated, student-led prayer. But, imagine the opposition you’d get as the one kid on the team who didn’t pray with your teammates.
Public elementary and secondary schools can’t use any official or standard prayer and when a voluntary student-initiated, student-led prayer is offered, it’ll be done in accordance with the religious views of the student saying the prayer.
A high school student speaking at a commencement ceremony can’t be censored for religious speech.
Laws and school policies or rules can’t deny any student in a public elementary or secondary school the right to participate in voluntary, student-initiated, student-led prayers. Laws also can’t prohibit school organizations because it has a religious affiliation or no religious affiliation (think Christian or Jewish Student Unions and Atheist or Ping Pong Social Clubs).
If you’re concerned about the way your school is requiring participation in religious activities or, on the other hand, is denying you the freedom of religion at school, speak to an experienced Louisiana education lawyer or a civil rights lawyer.
Note: As laws are constantly changing, it’s important to conduct your own legal research or contact an attorney to verify the laws you’re researching.
Research the Law
Related Resources for Prayer in Public Schools Laws:
Contact a qualified attorney.