Prayer in School

AP US Government and Politics

In 1962, with its ruling in Engel v. Vitale, the US Supreme Court banned school sponsored prayer in public schools. Today, what portion of Americans approve of this ruling?

Critical Questions

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What surprised you about this data?

  3. What big trend do you see in this chart?

  4. Why do you think that is?

  5. What is a consequence of this trend?

  6. Predict what you believe these numbers will look like over the next 25 years.

  7. If the US Supreme Court were to revisit its ruling today, do you imagine it would reach the same conclusion?

  8. If the US held a referendum on this issue, how do you think the US would vote?

  9. How does that make you feel about direct versus representative democracy?

  10. Imagine that you were a Justice on today's US Supreme Court. Justice:_____________ Explain how you would rule in the case of Engel v. Vitale.

  11. How high do you think the wall should be separating church and state?

  12. Did you think that in the case of Engel v. Vitale, the defendant was sports broadcaster Dick Vitale of ESPN? Admit it!

  13. Let's say that you were a member of Congress and you were outraged at the ruling from Engel v. Vitale. what specifically could you do about it?

  14. And what specifically could the POTUS do about this issue?

  15. How does age impact opinion on school prayer?*

  16. They say that as long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school. Is this true or false?

  17. Explain how you think people in the following groups would feel about the Supreme Court's ruling in Engel v. Vitale:

    typical U.S. liberal

    typical U.S. Libertarian

    Justice Earl Warren

    The interest group: Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

    The official platform of the Republican Party

    Donald J. Trump

    the average American

    Drumstick the Turkey who was pardoned by Donald Trump on Thanksgiving 2017.

Learning Extension

Read about the history of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment at the National Constitution Center.

Action Extension

Contact your school principal, superintendent, school board member, or school district lawyer and ask them to speak to your class about the separation of church and state and how it affects their job and your school.

Bonus Charts*

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Our World In Data Extension

Fill In The Blank Constitutional Convention Style

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Use the form below to fill tell us what Madison and Washington were thinking/saying.

Let Religious Freedom Ring

What portion of Americans age 18-29 are not affiliated with any religion?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the big story this chart tells?

  3. In your opinion, is the data from the chart good news?

  4. What is the most significant trend (changes, differences between age groups,etc) in the data?

  5. Describe the main cause of that trend.

  6. What is the most significant consequence of that trend on American politics?

  7. Which age group from the chart above did the Framers look most like?

  8. Which age group from the chart above do Republicans look most like?

  9. Which age group from the chart above do Democrats look most like?

  10. Draw a column on the chart for America age 0-17. Based on the trends from this chart above, what do you think this youngest group of Americans would look like religiously?

  11. Is the religious makeup of the U.S. Congress more similar to 18-29 year olds or to 50-64 year olds?

  12. Why do you think that is?

  13. If the Congress was as religiously diverse as young America (age 18-35) how would the policies it makes be different?

  14. How much does your classroom or your school look like the data in the chart for Americans age 18-29?

    Visual Extension

Learning Extension

Read this FiveThirtyEight piece on changing religious demographics in America

Action Extension

Print out the “Generational Shift” chart above. Research the religious demographics of your school or your town and draw in a column for that data on the chart. Post the chart in your school (bulletin board, school newspaper, on a poster in the hall) or online.

Random but wonderful bonus visuals

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Separated at Birth Extension

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Church in State

What is the biggest religious group in the U.S. Congress?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the big story this data tells?

  3. What is one consequence of this?

  4. How do you think this impacts U.S. policy?

  5. What most surprised you about the data?

  6. How do you think this data has most changed over the past 20 years?

  7. How different do you think this chart will be in 20 years?

  8. What would this chart have looked like in 1790?

  9. In your opinion, is the increasing Religious diversity of Congress positive or negative?

  10. Which religious group do you think is most over represented in the U.S. Congress and why?*

  11. What is one impact of this over representation?

  12. Claim: Christianity is more over represented in the house than in the Senate. Using the data from the chart, Explain whether the claim is true.

  13. What explains that difference?

  14. How religiously different are the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress?

  15. What explains that difference?

  16. The First Amendment guarantees freedom from religion and freedom of religion. How do you think the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment impacts the US Congress?

Learning Extension

Read the Pew Report on the religious makeup of the 116th Congress.

Action Extension

Contact your U.S. Representative or Senator and ask them to explain how religion impacts their work. Share their response in class or on line.

Visual Extension

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Bonus (unrelated and completely off-topic) charts

Separated at Birth Extension

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