Overview of Tennessee's Prayer in Public School Law
There have been numerous court battles over the proper role of religion in public schools, from disputes over the "under God" line from the Pledge of Allegiance to the teaching of creationisim in science class. The issue of school prayer in public schools, though, has mostly been settled. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits public schools from establishing an official religion, while also guaranteeing the right of students to express their religious beliefs.
The compromise for many states, including Tennessee, is an official period of silence at the beginning of each school day. Refer to the code section below for more details. Students are free to pray during the mandatory period of reflection but must do so silently, but teachers and administrators may not lead a religious act:
The teacher shall not indicate or suggest to the students any action to be taken by them during this time, but shall maintain silence for the full time.
Refer to the code section below for more details. See FindLaw's Religion at School section for more articles and resources.
|Applicable Code Section||49-6-1004|
|What is Allowed?||Mandatory period of silence of approximately one minute; voluntary student participation in or initiation of prayer permitted|
Note: State laws are constantly changing. Although we strive to keep these pages up to date, you may want to also contact a Tennessee education attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
The Establishment Clause and School Prayer
While private schools and homeschooling parents are free to use religious materials and a religious context in their curricula, public schools are government entities. This means they are bound by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and may not encourage prayers, Bible reading, or any other form of religious indoctrination. Even a school-sanctioned prayer that is not aligned with any one religion violates this principle, since atheists would not be considered.
Praying Privately in Public Schools
The right of Tennessee school children to pray in public school (as long as it is private and non-disruptive) is not limited to just the official minute of silence each morning. The Constitution also protects the free expression of religion. For example, students have the right to pray independently and silently before a test. This is different than a teacher or even another student leading the class in prayer, which is strictly prohibited.
Research the Law
Tennessee Prayer in Public School Laws: Related Resources
Contact a qualified attorney.