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League Goes to the Legislature
School Prayer
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School Prayer

At its December meeting, the state board discussed the issue of school prayer. We should like to speak to this issue at the:

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, where the issue of some sort of prayer observance is expected to some up soon.

STATE LEGISLATURE, where the adoption of a resolution advocating a moment of silent meditation passed the Senate but was defeated in the House and is likely to be introduced in the next session.

Background information, the statements we would adopt, and the action we would take are contained in this information sheet. Local Leagues are asked to discuss this issue at their January meetings; if members concur with state board, then we would take action under our national principle:

"The League of Women Voters believes in representative government and in the individual liberties established in the Constitution of the United States."


On the subject of school prayer, case law is clear. Formal prayer in public schools is contrary to the First Amendment. In a leading case, Engle v. Vitale (1962) The U.S. Supreme Court ruled (5-2) that a New York State program which encourages recitation of a prayer, on a voluntary basis, was "wholly inconsistent with the clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the states by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits laws respecting an establishment of religion." The majority opinion further stated that:

"Neither the fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral, nor the fact that its observance on the part of students is voluntary can serve to free it from the limitation of the

Establishment Clause, as it might from the Free Exercise Clause, of the Fourteenth Amendment."

"Yet once government finances a religious exercise it inserts a divisive influence into our communities."

"If a religious leaven is to be worked into the affairs of our people, it is to be done by individuals and groups, not by government."

"By reason of the First Amendment, government is commanded to have no interest in theology or ritual, for on these matters government must be neutral."

In states across the nation, this decision and others of the U.S. Supreme Court have been cited as precedent. In the last session of Congress, Senator Jesse Helms of North Caroline introduced a Constitutional Amendment that would remove the Supreme Court from jurisdiction over the school prayer issue. The amendment failed to pass.

On the basis of the above, the state board is opposed to formal prayer in the public schools and asks members to con-cur with the following statement:

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is opposed to the sanctioning of formal prayer in the public schools. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the first article of the Hawaii State Constitution, government is prohibited from interfering with the free exercise of religion and from the establishment of a religion. The sanctioning of formal prayer in the public schools would violate the intent of this doctrine.


On the issue of quiet meditation in the classroom, the Supreme Court has thus far been silent. However, in Federal District Court in the case of Gaines v. Anderson (Mass. 1976) the court held that a Massachusetts statute requiring observance of a period of silence for prayer or meditation at the opening of the school day in public schools did not violate the First Amendment or students' right of free exercise of their religion, nor did it inhibit parental right to guide and instruct children in regard to religion.

Opinions are divided in the issue of quiet meditation:

  1. Those who advocate quiet meditation say that it is a good way to start the school day; children begin their lessons on a calm and reflective note. This may be one way to bring one's beliefs from home into the classroom without imposing them on others. Stu-dents could be instructed by parents regarding what they should reflect on.

  2. Those who oppose sanctioning of quiet meditation say that meditation has always been associated with formal religion and that introduction into the public schools implies state sanctioning of religion in public schools.

There should also be freedom from religion. Also, children are malleable. Teachers will be free to say "You may pray if you wish." In the minds of impressionable children, this may imply coercion to prayer.

The state board recognizes that many public bodies, such as the State Legislature, begin their proceedings with a non-denominational prayer. These groups, however, are composed of adults. We feel that there is a vast difference between an adult group that sanctions the ritualistic use of prayer for formal ceremony and a group of children who may be easily influenced by an adult leader. For these reasons, then, we also oppose the sanctioning of formal meditation in the public schools and ask members to con-cur with the following statement:

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is opposed to the sanctioning of a formal meditation time in public schools because such institutionalization implies compulsion towards participation in a religious exercise. Should a formal meditation time for Hawaii's public schools be adopted, the League would oppose this sanctioning without proper safeguards to insure no deviation from the in-tent of private meditation only.


As stated above, state board would like to speak to this issue before the State Board of Education and the State Legislature. We would not mount an anti-prayer campaign; we would testify in the name of the League of Women Voters.

State board believes that the concurrence method is' a proper vehicle to bring this issue to our members. By thoroughly researching the issue, by presenting information to our members for discussion and concurrence, and by stating exactly what action we propose to take, we have acted in a responsible League manner.

Local Leagues have been asked to discuss this issue at their January and/or February meetings. You may use the blank below for your comments

I concur with the state board

I do not concur

Comments :

mail to 49 S. Hotel St. Honolulu Hi 96813

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