St. Mary's Law Journal


This Essay addresses judicial interpretation and application of the religious protections of students in public schools. Part II addresses the evolution of the law governing prayer in public schools, including the creation of judicial tests utilized in determining whether a school district has impeded the rights of students in the area of religion. Part III examines the application of these tests to various activities, including a discussion of the disparity in judicial interpretation with respect to the permissibility of prayer at public school functions. This Essay concludes with a discussion analyzing the effect of the recent United States Supreme Court decision, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. Santa Fe and its recent progeny support the argument that acceptable student prayer in school is limited to private expressions that are not disruptive. This means that such prayer does not disrupt the pedagogical goals of the school. But students may not pray if others would interpret the religious speech as sanctioned by the school. This Essay contends that recent Supreme Court precedents represent the Court’s attempt to maintain a precarious balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The avoidance of imposing a political agenda is also ever present in this balancing exercise. Through an objective observation of judicial holdings, this Essay concludes that both the courts and the United States Constitution demand religious neutrality on the part of all government actors. Despite the beliefs of some, however, religious neutrality does not mean anti-religion. Religious neutrality means respecting the religious rights of all students, not just rights of those religious students who wish to publicly pray.


St. Mary's University School of Law