State/Church FAQ

See You at the Flag Pole Prayer Gatherings

Is it lawful to hold a “See You at the Pole” prayer gathering at my public school?

The “See You at the Pole” movement started in Texas in 1990, as an ostensibly “student-initiated” and “student-led” religious expression. Students meet at their school’s outdoor flagpole to pray before classes begin on the fourth Wednesday of September.

Far from being a yearly spontaneous eruption of religiosity by devout public school students, the event has been carefully nurtured and orchestrated by youth pastors, churches and national religious associations.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas, in Dallas, Texas, owns the trademark for the See You at the Pole™ name and event. Student Discipleship Ministries in Burleson, Texas, creates and distributes promotional materials and videos. The San Diego-based National Network of Youth Ministries coordinates the promotion and media relations. This is spontaneously student led?

But students are free, under current interpretations of the law governing student free expression and public schools, to plan or attend such an event outside school hours.

There are parameters. Even the “See You at the Pole” adult promoters admit that school officials may neither encourage nor discourage participation. If the event is organized by a bonafide student club, then the club may use the same channels to publicize the event that are permitted any other student club. But no special privileges, under the Equal Access Act passed by Congress, may be granted to religious student clubs. If you see abuses relating to your school’s “See you at the Pole” gathering, complain to the proper school authorities.

It is unfortunate that churches and evangelizing groups increasingly view public schools as ripe recruitment territory. Various religious websites offer primitive advice to students about the “See You at the Pole” event, telling them to “claim God’s power over Satan’s influence” and to “reach out to your classmates who do not know God’s love and forgiveness.” Encouraging students to evangelize other students, promoting the ostentatious display of piety at school, breeds divisiveness and bullying, and can build walls between public school students who would otherwise get along. Why can’t students pray at home and at church?

Freethinking students can also take advantage of the Equal Access Act, which permits student-led clubs pertaining to politics and religion, at most high schools. Form nonreligious clubs. Put on events promoting reason over faith, good works over prayer, and a respect for the separation between church and state. Sponsor book clubs to read the latest atheist bestsellers! Follow your school’s rules governing student clubs to poster, leaflet and announce your freethought club and its events. If students only see religious clubs and activities in public schools, religion wins by default. FFRF is happy to provide sample copies of its newspaper, Freethought Today, and brochures for freethought clubs. Contact FFRF (use ) for more information.

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