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Pew Research Study: Teens’ Take on Religious Expression in Public Schools

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October 25, 2019

by Jared Besse • 4 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts throughout America have affirmed that students and teachers have rights and protections when it comes to living out their faith at school.

Recently, the Pew Research Center published an extensive study of religious expression in public schools across America. It’s the first large-scale, nationally representative survey that directly asks teens about their perception of religion in schools as well as their own religious practices.

Pew’s study finds that religious expression is common in our country’s public schools. Additionally, the reports shows a variety of interesting facts about how religion plays a role in the day-to-day lives of public-school students. Here are three key takeaways about faith in school.

Two-Thirds of Teens See Peers Living It Out

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of teens commonly see some type of religious expression at their school. This could include praying before a meal, inviting friends to a worship service or a religious youth group, or even reading a Bible outside of class. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of teens say that see at least one of these behaviors on a frequent basis in their schools.

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Majority of Teens Commonly See Religious Clothing and Jewelry

Teens are also highly likely to see religious clothing and jewelry on their fellow students. Fifty-three percent (53%) of teens say that they see their peers wear some sort of religious references on clothing or jewelry such as a cross necklace, a Star of David, or other similar religious symbols.

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Faith on The Field

Students are also likely to see others praying before sporting events. Around four out of ten teens (39%) see prayer taking place before a football game or other sporting event. First Liberty’s case with Coach Joe Kennedy involves this specific form of religious expression: prayer at a sporting event.

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Religious Expression: A Regular Part of the School Day

Each of above findings proves the ultimate point of Pew’s study—religion is a regular part of the public-school day. While this is great news for religious freedom, we must continue to protect it if we want it to stay that way.

In a hostile culture in which celebrities are berated for telling students to bring their Bible to school and state officials suppress students’ religious speech, we must be diligent in fighting and defending religious freedom in public schools—and it starts by knowing our rights.

Opponents may paint a different picture, but living out one’s faith in school is a common occurrence and…it’s a constitutional right. Let’s not forget that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear: Students and teachers do not leave behind their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.


Censorship is not part of America’s traditions or values, especially not in our nation’s schools or educational institutions. Download our Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers, in which you’ll find a detailed list of what, when, and how students can live out their faith consistent with the Constitution and the law.

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