by Jorge Gomez • 3 min read
We’re happy to report a victory for students and staff at the West Shore School District in Pennsylvania. The school district recently sent a letter to Booster Club presidents ordering them to “halt prayers at future banquets, and at any other school-sponsored activity.” The letter also stated that it is “inconsequential that a high school student offers the prayers because student-initiated prayers at school events are illegal.”
First Liberty and our friends at the Independence Law Center quickly sent a letter to district officials asking them to immediately rescind that threatening letter. Our legal team offered to help draft a new letter and policies to ensure the district would not illegally discriminate against students and staff.
We explained in our letter that the First Amendment prohibits a school district from acting in a hostile manner toward religious belief. We pointed to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and made clear:
“Student-initiated prayer at school-sponsored events is permitted in many circumstances. In fact, even school employees have the freedom to pray at school- sponsored events in many circumstances. There is an important distinction between school speech and individuals’ speech, and public schools may not trample free speech and religious free-exercise rights of students or teachers.”
In less than 24 hours, the school district responded favorably. Officials said they would revise their communications to make sure they’re compliant with federal law and in accordance with the Constitution.
Censoring religious speech and prayer in our schools betrays America’s founding principles. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that neither “students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Not only is it unconstitutional for the government to ban people from praying, but it’s also a disservice to our students. Public schools should be places that encourage freedom of expression; intellectual discourse; and honest, open dialogue.
We commend the West Shore School District for following the law. Officials did the right thing by ensuring students, administrators, coaches, and teachers are free to live out their faith. Other districts around the country would do well to follow their example.
As we celebrate this win, we want to thank you for supporting First Liberty. You are a big part in helping deliver these day-to-day victories, which make a tremendous difference for everyday Americans.