The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits any government from “respecting an establishment” of religion “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This constitutional command of ‘no state religion’ and ‘no state interference in religion’ has proven difficult to implement when it comes to prayer in public schools.
State or school officials cannot force students to pray or impose religious views on students. At the same time, students can pray on their own in school and religious-themed student groups receive the same rights and privileges as secular student groups. This area of law is governed by the First Amendment and mostly implemented by school districts and school officials. Wyoming has no statutory laws on the subject.
Prayer in Public Schools: What Is Prohibited? What Is Allowed?
The Supreme Court ruled state-sponsored prayer unconstitutional in Engel v. Vitale (1962). Before that time, state officials commonly wrote prayers to be recited in public school and students were required either to attend prayer sessions in public schools. Engel changed that, and the Supreme Court has continued to rule against school prayer in cases when schools or school officials organized or promoted a prayer.
However, students retain their free exercise rights and free speech. Private prayer and student-led prayer are legal. The Supreme Court has held that religious groups have the same rights to use school facilities and draw from school funds as secular groups. There are some limits, however -- prayer cannot be disruptive and free speech rights are limited in school setting. Prayer may be unconstitutional in a classroom or graduation ceremony but prayer cannot be banished from the schoolyard, extracurricular activities, or from students’ personal exercise of their own faith.
|Applicable Code Section||No statutory provisions. School prayer is mostly governed by federal constitutional law.|
|What is Allowed?||Student-led prayers, religious student groups, and religious exercise absent school-direction.|
Note: State laws are always subject to change, usually through the enactment of newly signed legislation but sometimes through higher court decisions or other means. Be sure to contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
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Related Resources for Prayer in Public Schools
Prayer in public schools can be a contentious topic. Knowing your rights is a good first step. There are additional resources on these pages about permitted religious activities in public schools and answers to some common questions on student rights. For further information or help with a particular case, consider speaking with an education lawyer in your area.
Contact a qualified attorney.