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Schools Must Comply With Federal Prayer Guidelines
by Terry Phillips, correspondent
A sea-change mandate has arrived in America's public schools. Schools must allow students to pray -- or they'll lose federal funding.

Within a few days, the federal government expects public school districts to file documents assuring the public that their students are receiving constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom on campus.

New federal guidelines on religious expression are part of the No Child Left Behind Act, the education reform bill that was enacted in 2001. Attorney Kelly Coghland helped draft the protections against the anti-religious bigotry some schools have imposed. "The guidelines clarify that public schools are not religion-free zones, school officials are not prayer police, and students of faith are not enemies of the state," Coghland said.

There have been guidelines before -- in 1996 and '98 -- but they had no real enforcement provisions, according to Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel. "These guidelines ... actually have some real teeth," Staver said. "In fact, the 'teeth' is at heart and core of many of the struggles that school districts face around America -- and that is federal funding."

If a single school is out of compliance, so is the entire district -- and all federal funding for the district is at stake. "There's going to be a lot of pressure from the school district to make sure all the individual schools are in compliance," Staver said.

What do schools have to allow, to be in compliance? "Students will be able to actually pray at the beginning of assemblies, at the beginning of all sorts of sports events and extra-curricular activities," Staver said. "In fact, (they can) even (pray) in Jesus' name."

In their seven pages, the guidelines constitutionally bulldoze the barriers pieced together by schools over the years. Coghlan and Staver urge parents to get a copy, and make sure their schools are following the rules.

The guidelines spell out student rights to religious speech. They are part of the No Child Left Behind Act and a product of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy's Senate education committee, when Democrats controlled the Senate.

For More Information

The US Department of Education website has information on the religious expression guidelines that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act. (see below).

Focus on the Family has assembled a number of resources on the topic of religious freedom and the schools. For research and information purposes, we suggest "Religious Expression in the Classroom":

In addition, you might be interested in "Praying Is Not a Crime" (

Also, the Web site for "See You at the Pole" -- an international movement of at-school prayer -- may be of interest to you (

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