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Authors

Jessica Smith

Abstract

Section I of this article discusses the impetus for the recent spate of "student-initiated" prayer statutes, guidelines, and policies. The discussion includes a summary of existing provisions as well as detailed accounts of the history and development of two "student-initiated" prayer efforts. These accounts, which chronicle the development of initiatives in Florida and Mississippi, expose the ruse of "student-initiated" prayer. The accounts demonstrate that regardless of how the initiatives were promoted or disguised, their true purpose was not to protect students' rights of free speech and free exercise but to promote prayer. Section II challenges the new initiatives on constitutional grounds. Rather than apply the much maligned Lemon test or the "coercion test" announced by the Supreme Court in Lee v. Weisman, this article argues that one need not even engage in a Lemon or Lee analysis to determine that the new school prayer initiatives must fail. Specifically, it argues that schools cannot avoid their constitutional obligations by delegating their decisions regarding school prayer to the students. This section goes on to distinguish the new initiatives from those scenarios that truly involve private student speakers and explains why the free speech and free exercise arguments asserted in support of the initiatives are without merit. Finally, Section III points out two byproducts of school-sponsored prayer that are often overlooked in the political debate: divisiveness and degradation of religion. These byproducts should be of concern to all - separationists and religionists - and caution strongly against school-sponsored prayer.

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