US Dopers: were you ever obliged to pray in public schools?

Please note that we are not in Great Debates. I chose this forum not for the polling capabilities but because I don’t feel like arguing about the rightness or wrongness of prayer in schools. Anybody who wants to can open his, her, hir, seh, its, or their own thread.

Public poll, no set ending date, blah blah blah. Detailed anecdotes are welcome.

I went to public schools through 7th grade. No prayers were required, and I don’t even remember seeing any, except maybe before a football game. Yes, we had a 7th grade team.

Went to a Catholic high school. Those folks prayed all the damn time. Before every class, assemblies, events, meals, you name it, they prayed for it. I was required to stand and otherwise be respectful, but not required to participate except in religion class, where each student had to take turns leading a prayer. Generally all you had to do was get the thing started with the Sign of the Cross and either…“Our Father…” or “Hail Mary…” and the chorus would finish it for you. Also, in French class, we translated what Catholics call the “Our Father” (Protestants call it the Lord’s Prayer) and “Hail Mary” into French…and then those classes used the translated versions for the opening prayer.

No, but we were required to observe a daily moment of silence – I think we had to stand for it, but I’m not sure. It was well understood that this was to encourage students to pray, but no one ever instructed us to do so that I recall. This was in Memphis, TN, and would have been around '84-'86, when I moved away.


To answer my own question:

My 7th grade home room teacher & gym teacher (whose name I have forgotten entirely on account of being middle-aged) was a Sunday school teacher in the Church of God in Christ, the biggest church here in Memphis. The summer before I entered his class, the state legislature passed a law allowing for a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day; he either misinterpreted this authority or ignored it, because he led us in a flat-out prayer, often referring to COGIC literature in so doing. I was a member of COGIC way back when, but I already had my doubts, and it bothered me; being only 12, I said nothing. Nor did anyone else. But I do recall that one of my classmates–the only white girl in the class, incidentally–was very uncomfortable about this, though she never dared object. Being named Rosenthal probably accounts both for her discomfiture and her reticence to express it.

ETA: Cliffy, we were in the same school system, it seems. May I ask what grades you were in when this happened? For me it only ever happened in 7th grade; the home room teachers of my later years did not even do the moment of silence, much less an organized prayer.

I remember in 2nd grade we had a daily “moment of silence” and sometimes one of us kids would read a prayer out loud to the class. I don’t remember much of the context or how it was presented, I just remember getting messed up one day on the word “sacred” which looked to me like the word “scared.”

I think we prayed at high school graduation, but I don’t precisely recalled.

Both of these were in New England. Within the last decade here in Tennessee, I attended events with my wife who was a high school teacher and I was shocked at the praying that went on at faculty events, like meetings and parties. I think they blessed the food at prom, too, the one year we were chaperones.

Never, unless the Pledge of Allegiance counts, which I assume it doesn’t. Born 1984, attended public school in central Maryland from 1990 to 2002, for anyone interested.

Oh - I never attended sports games and didn’t attend graduation either, so I don’t know if prayer was part of either of those gatherings. My feeling is that it would not have been.

Not that I can recall. There were a couple of times when something like that could have logically happened* but I don’t remember anyone leading us in prayer or instructing everyone to pray.

*There was an assembly where the whole school was gathered into the auditorium, given a speech about Jesus, and pocket copies of the New Testament were given to everyone to take home. There may have been a prayer too, but I only remember the bible.

Attended U.S. public school in the Midwest from 1966 through 1979. No, we never had to pray. There might have been a benediction or something at my high school graduation, but I don’t remember it.

…the hell? In a *public *school?

Yes, a public school in NY in the early 90s. It only happened once, so I assume it must not have gone over well, once some children got home with their new bibles.

Looks like I may be the only Doper who attended public school before Abington v. Schempp. We started every morning with either a Bible reading or some other inspirational piece that ended with a direct prayer, over the school’s PA system. A different student was selected each day to read it.

The students in class didn’t have to do anything except shut up and listen, but since it was broadcast over the PA system, even if someone had objected, it would have been damned hard to avoid it.

Small town Arkansas. Jesus Country. Just special events, though. Of course, nobody complained. They would’ve complained if there weren’t prayers. :rolleyes:

70’s and 80’s, California.


There was a separate, optional benediction ceremony on the Sunday before graduation for graduating seniors - but it wasn’t played up at all.

I love living in a state that, for the most part, believes in religious freedom.

1950’s, Maryland suburbs of D.C.

What I remember is each morning the teacher would read the 23rd psalm while the class listened respectfully. I only recall it with the one teacher – it was either 1st grade or 3rd grade. If it was 3rd grade, I would think there was something in 1st & 2nd grades, but I couldn’t tell you what.

I don’t remember when this morning “prayer” was dropped in our schools, nor if there were prayers before various events (though I’m inclined to think there were not).

Early 1960’s, rural Wisconsin. Kindergarden and first grade.

Late 60’s, early 70’s rural Oklahoma. I remember our teaching praying aloud while we bowed our heads. Students were never asked to lead a prayer that I can remember which is not to say that it didn’t happen.

Never in my experience (I attended school in Fairfax County, VA in the late 80s-early 90s), but one of my students told me there were daily prayers / Bible readings in her public elementary school in Mississippi. (This was a traditionally aged college sophomore, so we’re not talking any earlier than the mid- to late 1990s.)

I went to school in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and early 80s and, while we had a moment of silence, I don’t remember ever being obligated to pray in school. Of course, I do remember doing so voluntarily before a couple of tests!

Never, though we observered a “moment of silence” after the Pledge.

No. My schools were majority Jewish. We all got along well.