I was once told on the internet that there is no actual ban on religion at government schools in the US. The issue is actually that public school teachers are considered agents of the state and are therefore expected to refrain from religious activities whilst operating in their official capacity. So children praying at schools is not illegal as long as no agents of the state (e.g. teachers) participate.

I was wondering if this was accurate though?

  • As they say, yes as long as are math exams. Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


This is roughly accurate, but there are nuances. The real US issue with teacher-led prayer is that a teacher's authority can make it effectively coercive, or seem so, even if this is not intended by the teacher. (And in the past it has often been so intended, by teachers and administrators who thought it was good for children to be required to engage in prayer.) There is no ban on a teacher praying privately.

Similarly, there is no ban on private prayer by a student. Indeed such a ban (for either teacher or student) might violate the free-exercise clause of the US constitution. Of course a student should not be engaged in prayer when s/he is supposed to be doing classwork, but there are times during the school day available for prayer.

However, public, student-led prayer can also be an issue. For example, at some schools it was customary to have such public prayer at the start of football games, or school assemblies. This official designation of a moment or occasion for prayer was challenged as an endorsement of prayer by the school, and as coercive to those who did no want to participate, but might feel strong social pressure to do so.

The point is that the school, as an aspect of government, and one where students are required to attend at that, should not make prayer an expected norm, resulting in singling out those who do not conform.

But no US law or court decision has ever forbidden private prayer in schools by students, or indeed by teachers.

  • 4
    Re student-led prayer: The real test is how the school reacts when a student is invited to lead a "we-can't-officially-call-it-prayer-but-that's-what-it's-for" moment, and that student decides to say or do something other than pray. If that student gets penalized in any way, expect the usual suspects (the ACLU, the FFRF, possibly FIRE, etc.) to get involved.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 20:25
  • Isn't it still common to have an invocation prayer at graduation ceremonies?
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 20:44

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