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Legislative Prayer and School Prayer: The Constitutional Difference

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Publication Date: October 1994

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 94-821

Topic: Culture and religion (Religion and religious groups)


The Supreme Court has held government-sponsored prayer in the public schools to violate the establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. In contrast, it has held clergy-led prayer in legislative assemblies such as the Congress and the State legislatures to be constitutionally permitted. Because both situations involve government sponsorship of prayer, these rulings are sometimes said to be contradictory. The Court, however, has drawn significant factual and legal distinctions between the two situations. Nonetheless, it remains true that the contrary decisions reflect different approaches to the interpretation of the establishment clause.