Education Department to schools: Banning prayer will cost you
"Public schools should not be hostile to the religious rights of their students and their families," U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige wrote in a letter to public elementary and secondary schools Friday. "At the same time, school officials may not "compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities." Nor may teachers, school administrators, and other school employees, when acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, encourage or discourage prayer, or participate in such activities with students."

The letter accompanied a list of guidelines on such issues as prayer during noninstructional time, organized prayer groups and activities, moments of silence, and religious expression in class assignments. There's more detail and slightly different wording than in the 1999 guidelines endorsed by organizations across the religious and ideological spectrum, but the principles are the same.

The big difference between the Clinton administration guidelines and those of the Bush administration is that schools that don't comply with the guidelines risk losing federal funds. In fact, schools must certify in writing that they have "no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in this guidance."

This change—and indeed, Paige's letter itself—was mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, but Americans United for Separation of Church and State wants people to believe that the only person behind it is President Bush. "The Bush administration is clearly trying to push the envelope on behalf of prayer in public schools," executive director Barry Lynn ...

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