President Donald Trump announced his administration’s effort to defend prayer in school on Thursday, as part of recognizing Religious Freedom Day.
It is a sacred principle of our Republic, that government must never stand between the people and God, yet in public schools, authorities are stopping students and teachers from praying, sharing their faith or following their religious beliefs. It is totally unacceptable.
The president criticized a “growing totalitarian impulse on the far left” that tried to wipe out religious expression in the public square, something that would never have happened in America in the past.
“The right of students and teachers to freely exercise their faith will always be protected, including the right to pray,” he said.
Nine agencies in the Trump administration released proposed rules to ensure that religious organizations would not face discrimination because of their beliefs.
The Trump administration also updated federal guidance to protect prayer and religious expression in public schools.
Secretary of Education Betsy Devos thanked Trump for defending the right to religious freedom, detailing the new proposed rule to defend religious liberty:
Too many misinterpret a separation of Church and state as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith. In reality, our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion, it exists to protect religion from government.
Trump was joined by several school prayer activists and teachers and students who faced criticism for praying in school.
Devos also said that new guidelines issued by the Department of Education would require states to establish a clear process protecting the right for teachers and students to prayer in school.
One girl, Hannah Allen from Texas, said she and some friends were praying for a sibling of a fellow student who was injured and was told by a principal afterward to stop praying publicly in school.
“I know that if this can happen in a small town in Texas, it can happen anywhere, across America,” she said. “And that’s not right. No one should feel ashamed of their faith, especially in school or anywhere.”
One small boy, William McLeod from Utah, spoke about how he went to class on Ash Wednesday with ashes on his forehead and was forced by the teacher to remove the ashes in front of class.
“That’s a beautiful story, well told,” Trump said, shaking the boy’s hand. “It’s not going to happen anymore.”
A Muslim girl from California, Malak Hijaz, said she was harassed by fellow students for praying five times a day and covering her head and said the principal blamed her for the disturbance.
A Jewish girl from Florida spoke about how her open practice of her faith led other students to bully her. She teared up as she recalled students writing swastikas on her arms and belongings.
“I was terrified to say I was Jewish, and that should be in anyone’s mind,” she said.
Emily Chaney, a girl from Kentucky, spoke to the president about how her school “prayer locker” that allowed students to post prayer requests publicly was attacked by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
“I was heartbroke,” she said, noting that she had at least ten prayer requests a day.
“I’m just so thankful for you, and all you’ve done,” she said. “Thank you.”
Trump acknowledged to reporters that there was a “cultural war” in the United States and that he would continue to defend the public expression of religion while he was president.
The president said that government officials were taking the word “God” out of public places just like they were taking the word “Christmas” out of society.
“We’re not going to let it happen, we’re never going to let that happen, and we’re fighting it very hard,” Trump said.