(Photo: AP Photo / The Ames Tribune, Michael L. Palmieri, file)
The vast majority of Americans, including those that do not practice any particular faith, support allowing student speakers to offer a prayer at public school events, a survey found.
Overall, 80 percent of those who responded to a poll by the First Amendment Center said they think student speakers should be able to give a public prayer. Also, the majority (59 percent) of those who said they do not practice religion support allowing student speakers to pray at school events.
“Clearly most Americans want to keep government out of religion, but they don’t see an expression of faith by a student at a public school event as a violation of the separation of church and state,” said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center.
He added, “Public school students actually enjoy quite a bit of religious freedom on school grounds, but high-profile battles over commencement ceremonies and other schoolwide events have left the opposite impression.”
The national survey, conducted by The Pert Group between July 28 and Aug. 6, is based on telephone surveys with 1,003 adults. The First Amendment Center has conducted surveys on the state of the First Amendment annually since 1997.
In addition to public school prayer, the poll also found that more than three-in-four Americans support the proclamation of a National Day of Prayer by Congress or the president.
The finding is encouraging to supporters of the NDOP given a U.S. district judge’s ruling earlier this year that deemed the day is unconstitutional because it seemingly amounts to a government call to religious action. Not long after the ruling, the Pentagon rescinded its invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham to speak at its NDOP event over concerns about his remarks about Islam. To many NDOP supporters, the court ruling and the Pentagon decision, taken together, seemed to signal an attack on public prayer in America.
“This situation that has come up in the past several weeks serves as another reminder of the relentless assault against our religious liberty and should remind all Americans to be even more diligent in defending the heritage of freedom and faith that our founding fathers fought for that have long defined our country,” said Shirley Dobson, chair of the NDOP Task Force, at this year’s Capitol Hill event.
Despite the ruling, however, President Obama continued the tradition and issued a proclamation to recognize the prayer day.
The latest poll on the first amendment also found 53 percent believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation – a result similar to that found in the 2008 survey.
Its release comes just days before students across the nation gather in prayer for the annual "See You At The Pole" event, which will be held Wednesday morning.