This years See You at the Pole student prayer event will take place at schools around the world on Wednesday, September 24. The ACLJ has prepared an informational letter answering questions that are commonly asked regarding student, teacher, and parent participation in See You at the Pole events.
See You at the Pole is a student-initiated prayer movement in which students pray together on their campuses, usually before school at the schools flagpole. The First Amendment and the Equal Access Act ensure that public schools must allow student-led prayer on the same basis that other student speech is permitted on campus. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393
Moreover, the United States Department of Educations Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, which public schools must comply with to continue receiving certain federal funding, provides further protection for See You at the Pole:
Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and see you at the pole gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their expression. . . . [W]here student groups that meet for nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce their meetingsfor example, by advertising in a student newspaper, making announcements on a student activities bulletin board or public address system, or handing out leafletsschool authorities may not discriminate against groups who meet to pray. . . .
Students also have the right to wear Christian t-shirts and pass out tracts about Christ at See You at the Pole events in a non-disruptive manner. While schools may impose reasonable regulations that govern the time, place, and manner of student activities, such regulations cannot target the religious content of the student activity.
While teachers retain their First Amendment rights on campus, public schools have broad authority to safeguard against Establishment Clause violations. The U.S. Department of Educations Guidance, mentioned above, addresses the position that teachers and administrators should take:
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities. . . .
Thus, teachers may not actively participate in or lead a student religious meeting in their capacity as school officials, but they may be able to participate in prayer events that occur during non-contract time so long as they make it clear that they are present in their roles as citizens rather than in their official capacities.
Parents and other adults should be allowed to participate in See You at the Pole events to the same extent that adults may attend on-campus events held by other student groups. Since schools have broad discretion to develop policies regarding on campus visitors, parents and other adults should be sure to comply with such policies. Thus, due to the early hour of See You at the Pole, parents may need to notify school officials of their planned participation ahead of time.
We invite students, teachers, and parents to share our See You at the Pole letter with school officials. We also encourage you to call us or fill out our legal help request form online should you have any problems holding a See You at the Pole event at your school.