The Law Of Religion In Public Schools Essay

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Shannon Gansner EDL 680 Law and American Education, Fall 2011 Religion in United States Public Schools “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (First Amendment). This is also known as the Establishment Clause. This sentence, along with the Fourteenth Amendment which made it applicable to states as well, has been used to defend and sue many institutions in regard to where, if any, is religion’s place in our public schools. The opposing side often sites the same clause as their main argument but rather focuses on the second part; “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. There are many different ways religion is represented in public schools. Prayer, facility use, and creationism versus evolution curriculum are the main ideas discussed in this paper and are some of the most hotly debated issues of religion in public schools. Since these topics can be argued from many viewpoints, this paper will mostly focus on some of the more prominent and landmark cases and rulings on how religion in public schools in the United States is to be handled. Just as with most topics about religion’s place in public schools, the subject of prayer in school also many facets. A precedent about school sponsored prayer was set in 1962 in the case Engel v. Vitale. The New York State Board of Regents had written a prayer which was required to be read in front of a teacher each morning. The Supreme Court declared this unconstitutional as well as in the case of School District of Abington Township v. Schempp. There it was decided that reading from the bible and saying the Lord’s Prayer was prohibited even though students could be excused from the classroom while it occurred. This was because the Establishment Clause holds true even if the policy does not “operate directly to coerce non-observing

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