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Lord's Prayer in NH Elementary Schools

by webmaster last modified 2003-11-22 10:34 AM

A NH state law in effect since 1975 authorizes the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in New Hampshire's public elementary schools, violating the separation of church and state guaranteed by the US Constitution and defying a 1963 US Supreme Court ruling that the practice is unconstitutional.

Constitutional law relating to religion in public schools is not as widely known to educators, parents and students as it should be. An excellent joint statement of current law on the subject, signed by a diverse group of religious organizations, can be found at

Religion in the Public Schools: a Joint Statement of Current Law.

Regarding the subject of student prayers, the document states that "the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate." Additionally, the Secretary of Education, in a February 2003 memo, has provided guidance on the rights of students to pray in school or at school-sponsored events.

A NH state law in effect since 1975 (RSA 194:15-a) permits school districts to authorize the recitation (aloud) of the Lord's prayer in public elementary schools.

The language of the law is particularly offensive as it purports to teach students the very same constitutional right that it violates--freedom of religion. The law concludes with "the exercises shall be conducted so that pupils shall learn of our great freedoms, which freedoms include the freedom of religion and are symbolized by the recitation of the Lord's Prayer."

Although pupil participation is voluntary, it's hard to imagine the Lord's Prayer being recited every morning in a classroom in a way that would not have a "captive audience" or ostracize in some way those children who choose for whatever reason not to participate. For more on how a young child might be affected by in-class recitation of the Lord's Prayer, click here.

Changes were made to RSA194-15 in 2002 --the legislature separated the Pledge of Allegiance from the Lord's Prayer, creating the NH School Patriot Act (RSA194-15c), but left the language relating to the Lord's Prayer completely unchanged--truly a "missed" opportunity. More on the 2002 discussion in the NH legislature here.

Not to worry, though--many other states have similar laws, right? Well, there's Kentucky and....well, only Kentucky. To view their law, click here. The language is strikingly similar--the Kentucky law, passed originally in 1976, seems to have taken its legislative inspiration from the NH law passed just one year earlier.  Curiously, both states ignored the 1963 US Supreme Court decision (Abington Township School District v. Schempp) that held the practice to be unconstitutional.  

Now that the Pledge of Allegiance has been separated from the Lord's Prayer in the NH law, the portion of the RSA authorizing the recitation of the Lord's Prayer should be eliminated. Contact your New Hampshire state legislators and tell them what you think about New Hampshire being one of the two most "backward" states in the US on this issue.

Attempts to introduce the Lord's Prayer into schools and school-sponsored events continue to this day, including posting the prayer in school, singing it at graduation, saying it before football games, and reciting it before school board meetings.

Last updated August 2003

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