Students and religion in U.S. schools

God is here. God is alive. In this world and in schools as well. Many teenagers participate in or witness religious activity on campus.

Students retain a First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and may voluntarily pray before, during and after school. 

A Pew Resaerch Center survey finds that about four-in-ten teens who attend public schools say they commonly (either “often” or “sometimes”) see other students praying before sporting events at school. This includes about half of teenage public schoolers who live in the South, where students are more likely than those in other regions to witness and partake in various religious expressions at school.

In addition, roughly half of U.S. teens who attend public school say they commonly see other students in their school wearing religious clothing (such as an Islamic headscarf) or jewelry with religious symbols (such as a necklace with a Christian cross or a Jewish Star of David).

About a quarter of teens who attend public schools say they often or sometimes see students invite other students to religious youth groups or worship services. About one-in-six (16%) often or sometimes see other students praying before lunch in their public school. And 8% report that they commonly see other teenagers reading religious scripture outside of class during the school day.

Overall, on an index combining these five types of religious expressions and activities by fellow students – wearing religious clothing or jewelry, praying before a sporting event, inviting other students to youth groups or services, praying before eating lunch, and reading religious scripture during the school day – 8% of teens in public schools say they commonly see all five (3%) or four out of five (5%). A third of students say they often or sometimes see two (20%) or three (13%) of these forms of religious expression in their public school, while 26% say they commonly see just one. 

Nationwide, roughly four-in-ten teens (including 68% of evangelical Protestant teens) who go to public school say they think it is “appropriate” for a teacher to lead a class in prayer, an action that the courts have ruled is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.