School events, including graduations, may not include prayer. For more than 50 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayer in public schools, beginning in 1962. Engel.
By 1963, devotional bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools were ruled unconstitutional. Schempp.
“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’ Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” Schempp, quoting Torcaso.
The Supreme Court has successively clarified and strengthened its rulings against religious ritual and indoctrination in public schools. In 1992, the court ruled prayers at public school graduations impermissible: “the State cannot require one of its citizens to forfeit his or her rights and benefits as the price of resisting conformance to state sponsored religious practice.” Lee.
In 2000, the court ended prayer at school events even when student-led. Santa Fe.
School staff, including coaches, may not organize, endorse, promote, or participate in prayers with students. Teachers and coaches may not lead prayers or deputize students to lead prayer. Even a public school coach’s silent participation in student prayer circles has been ruled unconstitutional. Borden.
Schools and athletic teams may not appoint or employ a chaplain or other spiritual leader.
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