Prayer Controversy at Flagpole Erupts at Florida School

Liberty Alerts, Liberty Counsel

Jacksonville, FL – Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the Clay County School District, demanding it stop interfering with constitutionally protected prayer prior to the start of the school day. For some time, students, some teachers, and community members have voluntarily gathered at the Flagpole at Clay Elementary School to pray prior to the start of the school day. But the district buckled under pressure from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which alleged that the district must stop the prayer. The FFRF demanded that all prayer at the flagpole cease immediately, stating that “it is grossly inappropriate.” In response, Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the district setting forth the law.

The district cannot prohibit constitutionally protected religious speech or prayer during individuals’ free time. The United States Department of Education has issued guidelines addressing constitutionally protected prayer, entitled “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.” These guidelines state in part: “Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their expression.”

Regarding teachers, the guidelines state: “Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities.”

Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “Public schools may not interfere with constitutionally protected prayer. Before or after school hours or at other noninstructional times, students may pray. Teachers may also participate in prayer on their own time to the same extent they can participate in other secular activity.”

Used with permission of Liberty Counsel.