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from ACLU Briefing Paper Number 3 "Church and State" Is prayer in public schools constitutional if it is optional? Officially-sponsored school prayer violates several of the constitutional requirements cited in Everson. In two major cases decided in 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court held that public schools, being government institutions, cannot write prayers for sch oolchildren or sponsor praying, Bible readings, or religious observances of any kind in schools. Allowing students not to participate in such activities, said the Court, is not sufficient because the First Amendment bars the government from sponsoring or promoting religious beliefs and practices. Some state legislatures, in order to circumvent the Court's rulings, have instituted silent prayer by mandating a "moment of silence" in the schools. In those cases, the Court has held that the legislative inte nt and effect of such "moment of silence" laws are religious and, therefore, unconstitutional. Can children pray in school at all? Of course. Any child can pray on the school grounds so long as the prayer is a private exercise, such as a prayer before meals or reading the Bible between classes. However, school officials cannot be involved in sponsoring religious exercise by setting the time or place of these observances. Published by the Department of Public Education American Civil Liberties Union 132 West 43rd Street. New York, NY 10036 (212) 944-9800 Posted by Americans United for Separation of Church and State 8120 Fenton St., Silver Spring, MD 20910 ---

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