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Oklahoma Prayer in Public Schools Laws

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes both a Free Exercise of Religion Clause that guarantees the ability to express one’s religion and the Establishment Clause that prohibits the institutionalization of religion by any federal, state, or city government. The two sides of constitutional religious rights come to a head in the issue of school prayer. The Constitution requires both a separation of church and state and also the freedom of religion, seemingly requiring both a ban on school prayer and the ability for kids to pray at school.

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it’s unconstitutional for public schools to lead students in prayers. However, schools, can start the day with a silent meditation where students may choose to pray. In Oklahoma, schools are required to observe a minute of silence for reflection, prayer, meditation or anything else that doesn’t distract other students.

Oklahoma Religious Freedom Bill

In 2013, the House of Representatives voted 79 to 13 to pass House Bill 1940, which would require public schools to “protect” religious student expression and allow students to express religious beliefs in homework, art, or other assignments. The idea is that religious viewpoints would be treated equally to secular viewpoints. Critics argue this is unnecessary as religious expression.  

The following table outlines the prayer in public schools law in Oklahoma.

Code Section Oklahoma Statutes Title 70, Section 11-101.1 – Voluntary Prayer
What Is Allowed? Oklahoma public schools must permit those students and teachers who wish to participate in voluntary prayer to do so.
What Is Prohibited? Some of the religion-related activities that have been found unconstitutional are:
  • Schools can’t conduct prayers over a loudspeaker at sporting games (before, during, or after)
  • Teaching a specific religion as the truth, although the history or traditions of various religions can be taught academically as part of a history, sociology or similar class
  • Schools can’t prohibit teaching the theory of evolution without also teaching creationism

Just because the federal and state law dictate how prayer should be treated in public schools, doesn’t mean school districts always follow the law. If you have concerns about the way prayer is being incorporated into your student’s school, you should consult with an experienced Oklahoma education lawyer or a civil rights lawyer.

Note: Federal and state laws are revised all the time. In addition, the Supreme Court decides religion-related cases fairly often. It’s important to contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify these laws.

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