reply to discussion response

You have just been appointed principal of a high school of 1,200 students (or have just been hired to teach at a local university) in a conservative community. You discover on your very first day that prayer is recited over the intercom, a scripture is read, and blessings are given before some students eat.
i. What specific components of the First Amendment are involved here?
ii. Discuss these violations with your faculty in the context of the following:

Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Excessive Entanglement
Principle of Neutrality
Devotional Atmosphere
iii. What steps should be taken to address the violations, if any, as cited above

reply to the following response:
I am currently a district-level administrator for a suburban school district in New Jersey. Being named principal, as this scenario outlines, and then discovering that prayers and scripture are being read over the intercom along with blessings recited before students eat presents an interesting dilemma for the principal. It is not so much of a dilemma in terms of the legality of what is happening. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution along with the Free Exercise Clause prohibits the state or representatives of the state from advocating for one religion over others. Problems will likely surface when the newly named principal is forced to curtail these practices in this deeply conservative community.

It appears from the summary provided that the religious activities are being led by staff. If these activities were led by students and not something all must participate in, there would likely not be an issue. However, since staff are leading these activities for all, it will certainly need to stop. In the middle of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court interpreted the First Amendment to not allow any public aid to religious-based schools and also prevented formal religious observation in public education. These two propositionsthat public aid should not go to religious schools and that public schools should not be religiousmake up the separationist position of the modern Establishment Clause (Jeffries & Ryan, 2001, p. 281). The reality facing the principal is that it is a distinct possibility in this conservative community that the separationist position mandated by the Supreme Court is not well liked.

Along with violating the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, the practices of the staff of the school likely also violate the third prong of the Supreme Courts interpretation of the First Amendmentexcessive entanglement. Since staff are forcing all students in a public school to follow a particular religion or religious practices, it would likely violate this standard as well. Schools need to remain neutral when religion is concerned. Students are permitted to pray independently and even organize prayers for others, but public-school employees should avoid a devotional atmosphere where all students might feel forced or inclined to participate. The principal can call a faculty meeting and explain why these current religious practices violate the First Amendment and must stop. Once the principal has curtailed these practices in the building, he/she can start responding to email and phone calls from stakeholders who disagree with this legal interpretation.


Jeffries, J., & Ryan, J. (2001). A political history of the establishment clause. Michigan Law Review, 100(2), 279-370. doi:10.2307/1290540


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