Prayer in Public School - The History
Prayer in public schools became an issue in 1960: Madalyn Murray O'Hair sued the Baltimore MD school system on behalf of her son William J Murray, because he was being forced to participate in prayer in schools. Ultimately, her actions and the actions of the American Atheist Organization resulted in the Supreme Court ruling of 1962. (Tragically, she disappeared in August of 1995. In January 2001, a full five and a half years after they were last seen, the bodies of the Murray-o’Hairs were finally found on a sprawling ranch near the little town of Camp Wood, Tex.)
The Supreme Court's previous last major school-prayer ruling was announced in 1992, and barred clergy-led prayers -- invocations and benedictions -- at public school graduation ceremonies. "The Constitution forbids the state to exact religious conformity from a student as the price of attending her own high school graduation," the court said then. The ruling was viewed by many as a strong reaffirmation of the highest court's 1962 decision banning organized, officially sponsored prayers from public schools.
But in 1993, the justices refused to review a federal appeals court ruling in a Texas case that allowed student-led prayers at graduation ceremonies. That appeals court ruling, which is binding law in Louisiana and Mississippi, conflicts with another federal appeals court's decision barring student-led graduation prayers in nine Western states.
Prayer in School - Teachers, Administrators, and other School Employees
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities. Similarly, teachers may participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies.