New School Prayer Cases Reignite Public Debate Over Religion in the Public Schools, Says NYU Professor


According to New York University journalism professor and author Stephen D. Solomon, the New Jersey ruling was consistent with prior cases saying that school officials participating in devotional activities are violating the First Amendment by appearing to endorse religion.

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This week, a federal court of appeals upheld the policy of a public school district in New Jersey prohibiting a high school football coach from joining his players in prayer before games. Three weeks ago, two Delaware families settled part of a lawsuit against their school district concerning Christian prayer in their public schools. The cases have brought bitter recriminations among people in each community; in the Delaware case, one family had to move out of the school district to avoid anti-Semitism.

According to New York University journalism professor and author Stephen D. Solomon, the New Jersey ruling was consistent with prior cases saying that school officials participating in devotional activities are violating the First Amendment by appearing to endorse religion.

Solomon is the author of Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer (University of Michigan Press), which tells the story of how 16-year-old Ellery Schempp’s objection to mandatory school prayer and Bible reading led to one of the most controversial court cases of the 20th century. The 1963 decision, Abington School District v. Schempp, still reverberates in the battle over the role of religion in public life. It prompted a conservative backlash that continues to this day-in the skirmishes over devotional exercises in the classroom, the controversy over the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, and the role of faith in Presidential campaign politics.

“Americans have been fighting over religion in education since the first public schools opened their doors,” says Solomon, poi 500

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