Although prayer in Pennsylvania public schools is prohibited by the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which forbids any state institution from affiliating with a religion, Pennsylvania state law allows short periods of silence that students can use for prayer if they so wish.
Pennsylvania’s stance is not unlike that of other U.S. states, which also allow a moment of silence for meditation or prayer as long as it does not disrupt class activity. However, Pennsylvania’s policy does not resolve the conflict between prayer and school, as seen through the legal issues that have arisen in Pennsylvania.
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The 1962 Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp originated in Pennsylvania. Roger and Donna Schempp, students at Abington Senior High School, were required to memorize prayer verses and recite them each day before school, according to Cornell University Law School
. The school system exempted individuals from the practice if they had a note, but the Schempp family did not feel that their children should be isolated because of their Unitarian religious beliefs.
Accordingly, the Schempp’s filed a lawsuit against the Abington School District, which later rose to the Supreme Court level. The court ruled that the school district’s prayer requirement was a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
In 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit
against the Keystone School District of Clarion County, Pennsylvania. The Keystone County School District had planned on including prayer in a graduation ceremony after having opened school board meetings with prayer on numerous occasions.
Before filing the suit, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school board, which then agreed to stop. The school board was later pressured by community religious leaders to bring back the prayers, leading to the court case Doe v. Keystone School District.
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In a similar 2012 incident, the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to file a lawsuit
against the Grove City Area School District if they continued to include prayers at school board meetings.
“Prayer will be removed from future meeting agendas to avoid the potential cost of legal action against the board and Big Spring School District,” Wilbur Wolf, the school district’s president announced shortly after the incident.
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