The following excerpts are taken from President Clinton's
memorandum to Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of
Education Richard Riley about religious expression in public
ISHARE the concern and frustration that many Americans feel
about situations where the protections accorded by the First
Amendment are not recognized or understood. This problem has
manifested itself in our nation's public schools. It appears that
some school officials, teachers, and parents have assumed that
religious expression of any type is either inappropriate, or
forbidden altogether, in public schools.
As our courts have reaffirmed, however, nothing in the First
Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or
requires all religious expression to be left behind at the
The Departments of Justice and Education have advised me that,
while application may depend upon specific factual contexts and
will require careful consideration in particular cases, the
following principles are among those that apply to religious
expression in our schools:
*Student prayer and religious discussion: The Establishment
clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private
religious speech by students. Students therefore have the same
right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious
discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other
comparable activity. For example, students may read their Bibles
or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests
to the same extent they may engage in comparable nondisruptive
Generally, students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not
engaged in school activities or instruction, and subject to the
rules that normally pertain in the applicable setting.
Specifically, students in an informal setting, such as cafeterias
and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each
other, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student
activities and speech.
Students may also participate in before- or after-school events
with religious content, such as "see you at the flag pole"
gatherings, on the same terms as they may participate in other
noncurriculum activities on school premises.
The right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion
free from discrimination does not include the right to have a
captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.
Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is
in any way coerced to participate in religious activity.
*Teaching about religion: Public schools may not provide
religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including
the Bible or other scripture: the history of religion, comparative
religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature, and the
role of religion in the history of the United States and other
countries all are permissible public school subjects. …