Prayer in Public Schools

Until the 1950s, prayer was routinely offered in public schools across the nation and generally supported by the courts. This reflected the quest for religious freedom that was part of American history and the religious, mostly Protestant, influences that were common from colonial times to the mid-20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of decisions related to prayer and other religion-oriented activities in schools, setting tests for what is constitutionally permissible, as discussed in this entry.

Early Rulings

More than half the states have, at some point, allowed or required prayer and/or Bible reading in public school classrooms. This was considered to be part of the exercise of freedom of religion, and proponents of religious exercises, mostly prayer and ...

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