This post on the ADF blog has a rundown of what is and isn’t allowed in terms of prayer in public schools. Most of it is accurate, saying that prayer groups and Bible clubs are allowed to form and that students are allowed to pray individually and collectively during non-instructional time. But there’s one statement in it that I think is, at the very least, exaggerated:
Considering the decline in the moral values of America’s youth, teen pregnancy, and school violence, SYATP is seen by many as a refreshing and much needed injection of religion and faith in an increasingly dark sector of our society. To others, however, this annual event violates the separation of church and state and should be prohibited, thereby setting up a constitutional showdown in our public schools.
SYATP refers to the annual “See You At The Pole” event, which will take place September 27th around the country. SYATP is a coordinated even where students gather around the flagpole outside their school, either before or after school, and hold a group prayer. Nothing wrong with that, all perfectly constitutional. Which is why I doubt the accuracy of the last sentence there. Who exactly says that this event violates the first amendment and should be prohibited? No one that I know.
And what constitutional showdown? If someone has filed a suit anywhere in the nation trying to stop a SYATP event, I’m not aware of it (and if such a case does exist, someone please offer a citation for it). There have a been a few cases involving ancillary questions, like whether the school has to allow students to announce the event over the PA system, or in one case whether the school had to show a video promoting the event on the closed circuit TV system. The Rutherford Institute references those cases in this article on their website. But they don’t mention any case anywhere that challenges the event itself as unconstitutional.
If there are such cases, or even statements from groups like the ACLU or Americans United saying that SYATP is unconstitutional, I’d like to see some documentation of it. I posted a message to the religion law listserv asking if anyone knows of any such cases and an ADF attorney, Gary McCaleb, responded with some of the same cases cited by the Rutherford Institute, all dealing with ancillary issues that were far more likely to just be principals ignorant of the law. Indeed, McCaleb said:
ADF and its allies regularly intercede in similar situations with demand letters; the reason that more suits are not filed is that the schools generally correct their wrong behavior once notified by demand letter.
That clearly indicates that those situations, like a principal saying teachers can’t participate or that it can’t be announced over the PA system, are more likely just instances of ignorance. Once they’re informed of the law, they do the right thing. It hardly indicates that they think the event should be prohibited, or that they want a “constitutional showdown.”
This just seems like the standard issue rhetorical hyperbole we hear so often from the religious right. Take an event that virtually no one, not even the ACLU, thinks is unconstitutional (the ACLU agreed that it was constitutional in the joint statement they put out with other organizations in 1995), and pretend that there locked in some mortal battle against “secularists” who want to destroy religious liberty.