Overview of Wisconsin Law Regarding Prayer in Public Schools
The right of Americans to freely practice (or not practice) the religion of their choice has been well established, and in fact has roots in the nation's founding. But it can get complicated, particularly when there are questions about whether a public school is favoring any one religion, which is strictly prohibited by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
While some state laws directly address the issue of religion in public schools, and prayer in particular, Wisconsin has no statutory provisions:
|Applicable Code Section||No statutory provisions|
|What is Allowed?||-|
But like other states, even those with school prayer statutes, Wisconsin must abide by federal law and precedent. Even schools that set aside a "minute of silence," a "period of quiet reflection," or some other accommodation for religious students, it must be broad enough so that it doesn't constitute school-sponsored prayer.
What the U.S. Constitution Says About School Prayer
The First Amendment does not explicitly mention school prayer, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 (Engle v. Vitale) that schools could not lead official prayers. The case involved public schools in New York State, which started each school day with a Christian prayer. This does not mean the Court ruled against voluntary school prayer, however, which also is protected by the First Amendment.
In response, many states enacted laws either requiring or permitting school districts to provide a one-minute period of silence, which allows religious students a chance to pray quietly if they choose to do so. An Alabama law requiring a period of silence observation, however, was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1985 because it amounted to state endorsement of religion. Today, quite a few states allow for a voluntary period of quiet reflection.
Although a minute of quiet reflection doesn't accommodate all religions, those with special religious needs -- multiple prayers at certain times of the day by Muslims, for example -- schools in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S. must abide by these requests.
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a Wisconsin education attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Research the Law
Wisconsin Prayer in Public Schools Laws: Related Resources
Contact a qualified attorney.