WASHINGTON D.C. – In 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer in American public schools. Since that decision students, teachers, and even coaches have said their First Amendment rights were being suppressed. Others disagree, saying that students are allowed to pray or express their religion, they just can’t express themselves in such a way that it infringes on another student’s rights or makes other students feel like they must participate. However, time and again this idea has been subject to change depending on how it is interpreted.
One student in Utah had ash
removed from his face after he attended an Ash Wednesday ceremony, because the
ashes were in the form of the cross. Students and teachers have not been
allowed to display Christmas trees in their classrooms. Coaches have been fired
for leading their teams in prayer, even when the athletes wanted to pray and
led the prayer.
That changed on Thursday when President Trump took action to protect every student’s First Amendment right to pray in school. The Trump administration announced they are updating federal guidance regarding prayer & religious expression in public schools. The current guidance on the Department of Education’s website has not been updated since 2003.
Now in order to receive federal
funds, education agencies must confirm they are in compliance and that their
policies do not interfere with or prevent constitutionally-protected rights as
outlined in the federal guidance. This updated guidance will also allow
individuals to file a complaint if they are denied the ability to participate
in constitutionally-protected religious expression.
Further, the new guidance now
makes clear that students can read from religious texts or pray during recess
or other non-instructional periods, organize prayer groups, and express their
religious beliefs in assignments. The action shows President Trump and his
administration continuing to deliver on campaign promises he made to protect
prayer and religious freedom for all Americans.
While Trump’s move was praised by people
of faith, a liberal advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, took aim at the
President. They claimed President Trump was trying to support discrimination
with taxpayer dollars and “dismantle” protections for “people seeking
government services and benefits.”
“The right to believe and to
exercise one’s faith is a core American value. The right to discriminate with
taxpayer dollars is not,” said the Human Rights Campaign in a statement.
“Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions,” said President Donald Trump.
During the announcement, White House spiritual adviser Paula White said people had been “bullied and harassed” for practicing their faith and that the President’s actions would help put a stop to that. White cited “horrific stories” of people being persecuted because they “simply wanted to pray.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos also spoke, reminding Americans why the First Amendment exists, “In reality, our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion, it exists to protect religion from government.”
Several students from across America, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim students also offered their stories of how their religious rights had been violated in recent years at school.
During his first year in office, President Trump signed an executive order upholding religious liberty and the right to engage in religious speech. Thursday’s actions continued Trump’s push to protect religious freedom.
Read the official Fact Sheet from the White House: