One of the most contentious First Amendment debates in public education is how the Establishment Clause limits school prayer. On one hand, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech; but public schools are government entities and therefore may not "establish" or designate any one religion. As with many other states, New Jersey law allows schools to observe a one-minute period of silence to be used for "private contemplation or introspection."
The code section and some information about New Jersey's prayer in public schools law are listed in the summary table and article below. See FindLaw's Religion at School section to learn more.
|Applicable Code Section||18A:36-4|
|What is Allowed?||Observe a one minute period of silence to be used solely at the discretion of the individual student for quiet and private contemplation or introspection|
Religion in Schools
Public schools are not supposed to support one religion or another, or any religion instead of no religion at all. This is because the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of United States Constitution prevents the government from supporting or inhibiting any religion, and public schools are an extension of the government. On the other hand, private schools are free to support any religion they choose, because private schools are not part of the federal or state government. Many private schools in the United States are often aligned with a specific religion, and regularly provide religious instruction alongside secular subjects.
Minute of Silence in Schools
One alternative to a mandatory prayer in public schools is a moment of silence for personal reflection. This gives students who wish to pray the opportunity to pray, while does not suggest that a student should pray. If a teacher, school employee, or other state employee makes a suggestion that the students should pray during the time of silence, that may constitute a state endorsement of religion. Even a suggestion that some students pray if they choose, and others meditate or contemplate their thoughts, can run afoul of the constitution as an endorsement of religion.
Private School Prayer and Studying Religion
Even though schools cannot ask students to engage in a public prayer, they also may not prevent students from participating in private prayer. The Federal Access Act guarantees that religious student groups have the opportunity to meet after school like any other student club, and pray on their own. Studying religion is also permitted as long as it meets three requirements.
If you would like more information about how the first amendment applies in schools, you may want to speak with an education lawyer in New Jersey. Speaking with an attorney who has experience in civil rights law may help too.
Contact a qualified attorney.