FFRF convinces Okla. school system to halt prayer broadcasts

Prague Elementary School logo

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully persuaded an Oklahoma school district to stop broadcasting daily prayers at an elementary school.

A concerned district community member informed FFRF that Prague Elementary School had been hosting daily prayers during its morning announcements. The Prague Public Schools Facebook page regularly posted the photos and full names of young students who supposedly “asked if they could pray.” The district publicized on social media the names and photos of students who led the prayer, presumably so that they could receive accolades from the community for adhering to the majoritarian religious belief, compounding the constitutional violation.

“The First Amendment prohibits a public school from hosting or sponsoring prayer, even if it is ‘student-led,’” FFRF attorney Chris Line wrote to Prague Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Engle. “The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and school-led prayer in public schools.”

The Supreme Court has found school sponsorship of prayers unconstitutional, FFRF emphasized. This case was more egregious because Prague Elementary School was hosting prayer in an elementary school during the school day when all students and employees were required to be present. Even if students were allegedly “asking” to deliver the official daily prayers, they were only doing so because the school had established the practice and was actively promoting this in-school religious worship. In any case, the school cannot allow prayer to be broadcast via the school-controlled loudspeaker to a captive audience of students, FFRF pointed out.

Hosting official daily school prayers — and then publicly celebrating those students who participate — also alienates nonreligious students, employees and families whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the district, including the almost 30 percent of Americans who are nonreligious. FFRF insisted that the district cease hosting daily prayers and promoting religious worship through its official communication channels immediately. The district immediately heeded FFRF’s advice.

“The district agrees that the posts and prayer are inappropriate for a public school district,” the school system’s legal counsel recently wrote back. “It will ensure neither occurs in the future and will delete any district social media posts referencing the same.”

FFRF is always pleased to be of educational value.

“Public schools may not impose prayers on their students in any form, including under the guise of student choice — especially when the captive audience of students is so very young,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re glad that we were able to persuasively tutor the school district.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Oklahoma. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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