- Nearly 40% of public high school students report regularly seeing others praying on school grounds, and approximately half see some people wearing religious clothing such as Christian crosses, Jewish Star of David necklaces or Islamic headscarfs, a Pew Research Center survey finds.
- Additionally, a quarter of students have witnessed students inviting others to religious activities, 16% often or sometimes see students praying before lunch, and 8% see students reading religious materials.
- Another 8% have had a teacher lead their class in prayer, and 4 in 10 students nationwide feel it is appropriate for teachers to do so even though most students know it is against the law. More than half of teens surveyed have seen someone teased or made fun of “often” or “sometimes,” but say it rarely happens due to the student’s religion.
There is plenty of debate over how much religion — if any — should be allowed in public schools. While students often exercise their religious freedoms on school grounds, most believe religion should only be an optional part of the curriculum.
A PDK Poll found 58% of respondents thought the Bible should be offered as an elective, but only 6% thought it should be a required class. Most — 77% — thought schools should offer a comparative class on several religions. The poll also found 79% of adults thought schools should be teaching values like honesty, civility, respect for authority and accepting people of different religions and sexual orientations.
The U.S. Department of Education is also planning to track incidents of bullying related to religion in an effort to spot trends and areas where assistance can be helpful.
In some cases, teachers and staff feel not being allowed to practice their religion at public schools infringes upon their right to free speech.
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant high school football coach, claims he was fired by Bremerton School District in Washington state when he refused to discontinue the practice of praying on the 50-yard line after games. He took the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. In a note on the case, Justice Samuel A. Alito commented that the court didn’t necessarily disagree with the coach, but that the case had “unresolved factual questions,” suggesting the court may be willing to hear similar cases in the future.