Prayer during classroom time, along with organized prayer groups, will be allowed in the Montgomery Township Public School District in Somerset County, New Jersey, following school board members' approval of revisions this month to the school district policy about religion in public schools. The policy recognizes students are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and by the New Jersey State Constitution, both of which ban the establishment of religion in the schools. It also acknowledges religion is a personal matter.
Montgomery Township Board of Education members approved the revisions after a state-mandated policy was issued. This policy replaces earlier versions of the policy that were adopted in 1999 and 2005, reports Central Jersey.
The former policies stated "no devotional exercises or displays of a religious character will be permitted in this district, nor shall instructional activities be permitted to advance or inhibit any particular religious sect or religion generally."
But now prayers in the classroom, organized prayer groups and religious expression in classroom assignments are among activities that will be permitted in the school district, "provided the activity is consistent with current United States Supreme Court decisions regarding the relationship between government and religion," the newly revised policy states.
The policy also stipulates that school officials "will be neutral in their treatment of religion in the school district" and that they will not show favoritism or hostility regarding religious expression. "Accordingly, devotional exercises will be permitted in the district," it states.
It also includes student assemblies and extra-curricular events; prayer and graduation and baccalaureate exercises; devotional exercises and other prayer and/or religion-related activities.
"(But) the school district will not permit an activity if the activity advances or inhibits any particular religious expression that is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," according to the newly revised policy.
Though school-sponsored prayer in public schools was ruled unconstitutional more than 50 years ago and the Supreme Court decided more than 20 years ago that public schools cannot sponsor prayer at graduation ceremonies, the topic continues to be one of the country's most controversial.
A Christian Science Monitor article argued that despite official bans on school-sponsored prayer and perceptions of laws against prayer, "God and faith are probably present in more ways now than ever in public schools."