The Department of Education released updated guidelines on prayer and other religious expressions in public schools. The move comes about a year after a high-profile Supreme Court case, in which a Christian football coach was granted the right to openly pray on his school’s 50-yard line after game time.
The Department of Education officially recognized the ruling in its footnotes, stating that “teachers, school administrators, and other school employees may not encourage or discourage private prayer or other religious activity.”
The guidance acknowledged that U.S. law allows school employees to engage in private prayer during the workday but emphasizes that they may not “compel, coerce, persuade, or encourage students to join in the employee’s prayer or other religious activity.”
Furthermore, the guidelines state that schools may take reasonable measures to ensure that students are not pressured to participate in prayers led by their teachers or coaches, as reported by NPR.
Reactions from various groups
The Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization focused on defending religious freedom, expressed concerns about potential confusion resulting from the changes. One representative told The Christian Post that the updated guidelines remove two sections, potentially leading to more violations of students’ and teachers’ right to association.
“This guidance may lead to more violations of student and teacher rights sooner rather than later and we stand ready to support students and teachers in protecting their rights,” Greg Chaufen, legal council with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said.
Conversely, the American Atheists, a group that has been opposing bills in Texas that seek to introduce religious elements into schools, welcomed the Biden administration’s guidance.
“The Biden administration’s guidance is very much needed. It will help to protect public school students from unwanted religious indoctrination,” the group said in a statement.