Education Law

State Laws on School Prayer: Moments of Silence and Personal Prayers

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Learn about state laws allowing or requiring moments of silence in public schools, as well as other laws recognizing students’ right to pray as part of their freedom of religious expression.

It used to be common in the U.S. for teachers to start the school day by leading students in prayer. In fact, some school districts or entire states required the practice—until the early 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional. (See our article on school prayer for more details.)

Many states responded to the Supreme Court’s decision by passing laws that called for beginning public school days with a moment of silence. The Supreme Court struck down one of these statutes (in Alabama) because its only purpose was to endorse religion and bring prayer back into the classroom. But some lower courts upheld other moment-of-silence laws if there was a genuine nonreligious purpose behind them, like helping students calm down at the beginning of the school day. As a result, several states bolstered their laws by including language about the secular reasons for having a period of silence in school.

Some states also have laws that essentially restate what courts have said about students’ First Amendment rights to express their religious beliefs and pray on their own or with others, as long as they aren’t disruptive and don’t violate other students’ rights. (For more on that issue, see our article on freedom of religious expression at public schools.) Still other states have no specific laws on the topic of school prayer. And finally, a few states have kept statutes on the books that courts have already said are unconstitutional or that would probably be considered unconstitutional if they were challenged.

Below is a summary of the laws in all 50 states related to moments of silence and prayers in public schools. Follow the links (under the state name) to learn more details about your state’s laws and any relevant court decisions. (If your state has any laws on the subject but you don’t see a link, check back later; this site is still under construction.)

State

Relevant Laws

Alabama

Period of silence for meditation/quiet reflection; student initiated voluntary prayer; teacher-led prayer*

Alaska

None

Arizona

Period of silence for meditation; personal voluntary prayer

Arkansas

Period of silence for reflection, prayer, or silent activity

California

None

Colorado

None

Connecticut

Voluntary silent meditation

Delaware

Period of silence; voluntary student messages as graduation ceremonies

Florida

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Georgia

Period of quiet reflection; student-initiated, nonsectarian, nonproselytizing voluntary prayers

Hawaii

None

Idaho

None

Illinois

Period of silence for prayer or reflection; allows voluntary nondisruptive prayer outside of instructional time

Indiana

Moment of silence for meditation, prayer, or other nondistracting activity

Iowa

None

Kansas

Period of silence for prayer or reflection

Kentucky

Moment of silence or reflection; students may voluntarily pray to the same extent as nonreligious expression or meditation is allowed; access to school facilities for prayer outside of instructional time; allows voluntary recitation of traditional Lord’s prayer*

Louisiana

Voluntary period of silent prayer or meditation; student volunteers may offer prayer or lead in silent meditation; students may participate in voluntary, student-initiated and student-led prayer

Maine

Period of silence for reflection or meditation

Maryland

Period for silent meditation

Massachusetts

Period of silence for personal thoughts; students may participate in voluntary prayer before start of school day with parental approval

Michigan

Opportunity for voluntary silent meditation

Minnesota

Moment of silence

Mississippi

Moment of silent reflection; students may initiate nonsectarian, nonproselytizing, voluntary prayer during school-related events; students may pray to the same extent as nonreligious expression is allowed

Missouri

Students may pray to same extent as nonreligious expression is allowed

Montana

Teachers, principals, or superintendents may open school day with prayer*

Nebraska

None

Nevada

Voluntary period of silent meditation, prayer, or reflection

New Hampshire

Period before official start of school day for voluntary free exercise of religion; allows voluntary recitation of traditional Lord’s prayer in elementary schools*

New Jersey

Voluntary period of silence for quiet, private contemplation or introspection*

New Mexico

Voluntary student-initiated moments of silent meditation

New York

Period of silent meditation with participation of all students

North Carolina

Moment of silence for quiet reflection; students may pray to the same extent as nonreligious expression or meditation is allowed

North Dakota

Minute of silence for meditation, reflection, or prayer; students may voluntarily pray aloud to same extent as nonreligious expression is allowed; students may initiate prayer at activity on public or private school grounds

Ohio

Voluntary moment of silence for voluntary prayer, reflection, or meditation on a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme

Oklahoma

Minute of silence for reflection, meditation, prayer, or other nondistracting activities; students allowed to participate in voluntary prayer

Oregon

None

Pennsylvania

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Rhode Island

Period of silence for meditation

South Carolina

Minute of silence; students may organize prayer groups to the same extent as other noncurricular groups

South Dakota

None

Tennessee

Period of silence; students may initiate voluntary, nonsectarian, nonproselytizing prayers at school-related events; students may pray to the same extent as nonreligious meditation or expression is allowed

Texas

Minute of silence for reflection, prayer, meditation, or other nondistracting activity; students may individually, voluntarily, and silently pray or meditate

Utah

Period of silence

Vermont

None

Virginia

Minute of silence for meditation, prayer, or other nondistracting activity; students may voluntarily pray on school grounds

Washington

Recognizes right of private schools to have prayer in classrooms and assemblies

West Virginia

Brief time for personal, private contemplation, meditation, or prayer*

Wisconsin

None

Wyoming

None

*Held (or likely to be held) unconstitutional

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