Is Prayer Allowed in Public Schools? 

Written by Valerie Probasco

January 2, 2023

The short answer to this question is “Yes.” Students are allowed to pray in public schools during the day. We still have religious freedom in America thanks to our Constitution. This short answer, as you can imagine, opens a much broader discussion. A discussion which begins with each person taking the time to research our history and discern truth based on prayer and the word of God. This brief article will hopefully serve to begin that process.     

You may be aware of the landmark Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale in 1962 which removed “school-sponsored prayers” from our public education system. From what I have read, Engel had its origins in a 1951 New York Board of Regents attempt to develop “moral and spiritual training” in students. The Regents were a decision-making board over New York public schools. In order to avoid conflicting with the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and yet honor our heritage as “One Nation Under God,” they convened an inter-faith team to compose a prayer which was completely optional for students to recite each day. That prayer went like this: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” By 1959, five parents had brought a lawsuit against the Regents. Eventually, this case went to the Supreme Court in 1962. 

This was a major domino to fall. Since that ruling, Engel has been expanded. In 1963, SCOTUS decided to strike down The Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading led by teachers.  In 1992, SCOTUS said school officials could not invite clergy to give prayers at graduation ceremonies. There are other such decisions that are very interesting for your study of this topic. Even though the Engel decision still allows students to pray and read their Bibles at school, I would contend that by removing teacher-led prayer and scripture we very much impacted the moral fabric of our country. While it may be true that students still have these constitutional rights, there is really no consistent avenue for them to do so during the school day. Working in a public school, my observation is that there is very little time to do anything outside the required minutes of instruction. I would also contend that there is power in corporate prayer and there is power in the word of GOD. We are taught “where two or more are gathered” the Holy Spirit promises to be in the midst. By removing the consistency of a daily prayer time with the students, our government negatively impacted the moral and spiritual development of our nation. This, in my humble opinion, is one reason we are seeing such instability and turmoil in our country today. 

I know this topic has multiple facets and is much deeper than one article can contain. It certainly requires our fervent prayer and introspection. This fall, I have been prompted to have a prayer group after school for our staff. I was given permission by the school principal and look forward to battling in prayer for GOD’s will to be done in the lives of our students, parents, teachers, administrators, and government. On the inside back cover of this Sabbath Recorder, there is a full color version of the prayer which led to the 1962 Supreme Court decision mentioned in this article. Please detach it and display it. I have prayed it every day of this school year and I ask that you join me in it. We are allowed to pray in our schools. We are allowed to pray in our places of employment. We are allowed to pray in our public places. We are not only allowed to pray, we are called to do so without ceasing. 

 —Valerie Probasco 

Shiloh Seventh Day Baptist Church

Valerie has been married to Bill Probasco for 25 years and is blessed to have two amazing kids, Holly and Liam. She is a member of the Shiloh SDB Church and loves residing in the Borough. Most of all, she is humbled to be a warrior princess as a daughter of the King of Kings. 

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