Overview of Washington's Prayer in Public School Law
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech, but also prohibits government entities from favoring one religion over another. This presents a conflict in public school with respect to prayer. While the federal government has largely kept religion out of public schools, many states allow for a minute of quiet reflection to allow for silent prayer or meditation. Washington statute does not directly address the issue of prayer in public schools, so schools in the state look to federal law for guidance on this matter.
The Constitutionality of School Prayer in Public Schools
Any religious expression that is led, sanctioned, or even appears to be sponsored by school officials -- even a pre-game prayer at a sporting event -- will likely be found to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Students are allowed to pray voluntarily, though, which is also protected by the First Amendment. Generally, schools (via teachers, administrators, and other staff members) may not promote or exclude any particular faith.
The U.S. Supreme Court definitively prohibited institutionalized prayer in public schools in 1962, when it struck down a New York State law requiring public schools to start each day with either a Christian Bible reading or prayer. Other Supreme Court cases have followed the same trajectory, including a 1980 decision striking down a Kentucky law that required the posting of the Ten Commandments in all public school classrooms.
Exceptions: Religion in an Academic Context
Since religion has played a historic role in culture, history, literature, and the arts, it is perfectly legal to discuss religion in these contexts. For instance, a social studies teacher may discuss the role of religion when teaching about conflicts in the Middle East, as long as this discussion is purely academic. But advocating for or against either Islam or Judaism would probably cross the line.
Learn more about Washington's prayer in public school laws (or lack thereof) below, with links to related articles. See FindLaw's Religion at School section for more information.
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Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a Washington education attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
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Washington Prayer in Public Schools Laws: Related Resources
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