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Poll: Public Broadly Supportive Of School Prayer

Prayer and other forms of religious expression in public schools continue to have broad public support, according to a new survey released by Gallup.

A solid majority of adults, 61 percent, favor allowing daily prayer in the classroom, while 37 percent are opposed. In addition, 75 percent are supportive of having prayer or other religious expressions as an official component of school graduation ceremonies, and 77 percent think public facilities should be made available to student religious groups after school.

Those numbers have only dipped slightly since 1999, when 70 percent of adults supported school prayer, 83 percent supported religious components of graduations, and 78 percent wanted school facilities to be open to religious groups.

Unsurprisingly support varied based on respondents’ personal religious activities, though even many of the non-religious favored allowing religious expression in school. For example, 89 percent of Protestant Christians supported allowing official prayers at graduation, but so did 44 percent of those with no religion; 35 percent of those with no religion supported daily classroom prayer.

Significant gaps existed not just between Christians and the non-religious, but also among different Christian groups, with Catholics much less likely to support religious expression in public schools. In fact, Catholics were less likely than the non-religious to support opening public school facilities to religious groups after school, with 66 percent backing such a policy compared to 69 percent of the non-religious.

State-sponsored school prayer was widespread in the United States until 1962, when the Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale struck down state-sponsored prayer as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Since then, several additional Supreme Court judgments have struck down prayer in other contexts, such as in school graduation ceremonies or prior to school sporting events. Private prayer in schools has always remained legal, and the Court has tolerated “moments of silence” in schools that allow students to pray on their own.

The poll’s wording may be criticized for vagueness; some respondents may interpret questions regarding prayer in class to refer to teacher-led endeavors while others interpret the question as merely referring to allowing students to pray on their own.

The poll is based on survey of 1,032 U.S. adults, conducted from August 7-10. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

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