Press-Republican

October 2, 2012

Editorial: Prayer at school constitutional

--
Press-Republican

---- — You might not be able to have prayer in schools, but you can have prayer at schools, as recent gatherings of local students prove. And we support that as a constitutionally protected way for people of faith to celebrate their beliefs.

The phrase "separation of church and state" is commonly cited as part of the U.S. Constitution. But those words are not actually part of the document.

The Constitution does say: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

And Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "wall of separation between the church and the state" in a letter in 1802.

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings on a number of occasions that uphold the idea that religion and government should not be intertwined.

The result has been the rejection of prayer in the public schools. That is the proper decision because we are a nation of many faiths. It would be unfair to introduce the prayers of one religion into our schools.

But some students want to be able to publicly proclaim their faith. Maybe it is just for the satisfaction that comes from sharing beliefs they are proud to hold. Or it could be in hopes that their courage in standing up in a world that doesn't always value religious expression could inspire other students to consider allowing faith into their lives.

Students and some staff members from a few local schools participated in a global movement called See You at the Pole, which is where they get together at the flagpole before school hours to pray. 

Here's what the movement's website, syatp.com, says about the effort: "According to your constitutional rights, upheld by Supreme Court precedent, you already have permission to have See You at the Pole because it is student-led, before school hours and outside of any school building. It does not cost the district anything financially for students to meet and pray, so you aren’t 'establishing religion with tax money.'"

The website suggests that students inform the school board and administration ahead of time, although it is not required by law. The site also advises them of how to respond if someone at the school tries to prevent them from gathering.

We hope that wouldn't happen. This effort does not violate the tenets of the Constitution, so we see it as an issue of freedom of speech and stand solidly behind this effort.

We hope students from other schools who want to share their faith — whatever it may be — will consider joining the See You at the Pole effort next year.