President Trump vows to protect the right to pray in public schools

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Here's a look at how the four biggest Northwest Arkansas school districts handle prayer in the classroom.

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA)— President Donald Trump, vowing to protect the right to pray in public schools by rolling out new guidelines Thursday.

The president said the point of this rollout is to protect religous freedom and to make sure groups of faith are not discriminated against.

He said, “This afternoon we are proudly announcing historic steps to protect the first amendment, right to pray in public schools.”

President Trump claims some public schools are limiting religious freedom by stopping students from praying.

“Authorities are stopping students and teachers from praying, sharing their faith, or following their religious beliefs. It is totally unacceptable,” he said.

The law states that public schools cannot lead prayer, but students may pray independently if they wish.

“There have been cases in other states in which school administrators, maybe unknowingly of the law have tried to stop students from doing that and that’s just as wrong as it is having students pray over the loudspeaker,” said Rick Schaeffer, the communications director for Springdale schools.

Shaeffer said their kids are allowed to pray independently—just so long as it’s not disruptive.

He remembers a time when this wasn’t the case in public schools.

“I vividly remember that,” he said. “I can vividly remember sitting in a classroom and we had prayer every morning.”

Back in the 60’s, a supreme court ruling banned prayer over a loud speaker.

Shaeffer said, “Sixth grade was the last year when my homeroom teacher read a bible verse every day. Then the law changed that, so the next year you didn’t do it.”

The president’s new guidelines aims to protect your child’s right to pray.

Springdale schools have a plan in place to report any unlawful restriction on that right.

“If it happened once and a student reported that, then obviously the principal would go to the teacher and say ‘hey that’s just something you can’t do,’ and I can’t say that’s never happened,” he said.

On a larger scale, these guidelines make sure states don’t discriminate against religious institutions when distributing federal dollars.

Here is the policy on prayer in the Bentonville School District:

Each class shall observe a one (1) minute period of silence at the beginning of each school day. During the period of silence a student may,without interfering with or distracting another student:

   (1) Reflect;

   (2) Pray; or

   (3) Engage in a silent activity.

A teacher or school employee in charge of a public school classroom shall ensure that all students remain silent and do not interfere with or distract another student during the period of silence.

In the Fayetteville School District, it’s the following:

“The right of a student or staff member to engage in prayer and other religious activities that are personal and voluntary is recognized as long as the conduct is not disruptive nor interferes with the educational process or the rights of others. Staff members’ activities shall not be such as would indicate to students an endorsement of or support for religion by the school.”

For more on the Fayetteville policy, click here.

This is the policy in the Rogers School District:

“Schools shall observe a one minute period of silence at the beginning of each school day. During the period of silence a student may, without interfering with or distracting another student: reflect, pray or engage in a silent activity. The teacher or school employee in charge of the classroom shall ensure that all students remain silent and do not interfere with or distract another student during the period of silence.”

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