1. I. Student Participation.
      2. Sponsored by An Officially Recognized Club.
      3. D. Permissible Regulations for Prayer Events.
      4. II. Teacher or Administrator Participation.

See You At The Pole Informational Letter
Dear Concerned Citizens:
The purpose of this letter is to update you regarding free speech rights on public school
campuses, particularly the right to engage in religious expression at
See You at the Pole
See You at the Pole™ is a student-led, student-initiated movement of prayer that
revolves around students praying together on the fourth Wednesday of September,
usually before school and usually at the school’s flagpole. It involves students in
elementary schools, middle/junior high schools, high schools, and colleges/
universities all over the world. Adults often pray in support of the students on
campus by gathering nearby, at their places of work or worship, or at city halls.
The American Center for Law & Justice (“ACLJ”) is a not-for-profit public interest law
and educational group. Our organization exists to educate the public and the government about
the right to freedom of speech, particularly in the context of the expression of religious
sentiments. ACLJ attorneys have argued and submitted briefs before the Supreme Court of the
United States in a number of significant cases in this area, including
McConnell v. FEC
, 540
U.S. 93 (2003);
Santa Fe Independent Sch. Dist. v. Doe
, 530 U.S. 290 (2000);
Hill v. Colorado
530 U.S. 703 (2000);
Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York
, 519 U.S. 357
Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Sch. Dist.
, 508 U.S. 384 (1993);
Board of Educ. of
the Westside Cmty. Schs. v. Mergens
, 496 U.S. 226 (1990); and
Board of Airport Comm’rs v.
Jews for Jesus
, 482 U.S. 569 (1987). This letter will answer questions that are commonly asked
regarding student, teacher, and parent participation in
See You at the Pole
Student Participation.
The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the rights of students to express themselves
on public school campuses, even within group contexts similar to
See You at the Pole
. In 1969,
the Supreme Court held in
Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Comty. Sch. Dist.
that students have the
right to speak and express themselves on campus.
The Court later held in
that Bible
clubs and prayer groups can meet on public secondary school campuses. The Court, in
interpreted the Equal Access Act
to insure that high school students were not discriminated
See You at the Pole
, FAQ: “What is See You at the Pole?,” at http://www.syatp.com/info/faq/index.html (last
visited August 28, 2007).
393 U.S. 503 (1969).
20 U.S.C. §§ 4071,
et seq.

See You at the Pole Informational Letter
against in public schools because of their religious beliefs. The Court held that public secondary
schools that receive federal funding must allow Bible clubs to meet on campus during non-
instructional time to the same extent that non-curricular clubs
are permitted to meet on campus.
The Equal Access Act should extend to student prayer groups as well as Bible clubs that
See You at the Pole
or similar events. As Justice O’Connor explained, writing for the
Court in
, “if a State refused to let religious groups use facilities open to others, then it
would demonstrate not neutrality but hostility toward religion.”
Almost all public secondary schools in the United States receive federal funding. Thus, if
such public schools permit non-curricular clubs such as Interact, Zonta, 4-H, Chess Club, and
other service-type clubs to meet and hold events on campus, those schools must also permit
You at the Pole
events to the same extent. In sum, student Bible clubs and prayer groups must be
given equal access.
Students May Participate in
See You at the Pole
Even if the Event is Not
Sponsored by An Officially Recognized Club.
As the Supreme Court made clear in
, students have substantial rights under the
First Amendment. So long as student conduct does not “materially or substantially interfere with
school discipline,”
a student may gather with other students on campus for prayer even if no
Bible Club has been officially recognized.
Student prayer is a protected form of speech that cannot be banned by school officials,
including prayer at
See You at the Pole
events. A school official who refuses to allow students
the right to pray on their campus is engaging in censorship in violation of the First Amendment.
Additionally, a public school that receives federal funding must certify “that it has no policy that
prevents, or otherwise denies participation in constitutionally protected prayer in public schools
as set forth in [the U.S. Department of Education Secretary’s
Guidance on Constitutionally
Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools
A school that receives federal
funding, yet fails to make such a certification or makes the certification in bad faith, could lose
its federal funding “until the recipient [school] comes into compliance.”
promulgated by Secretary of Education Rod Paige on February 7, 2003
specifically addressed events such as
See You at the Pole
Non-curricular clubs include those clubs not part of or directly related to a particular class.
See Mergens
, 496 U.S.
at 239-40.
496 U.S. at 248.
393 U.S. at 504 (quoting
Burnside v. Byars
, 363 F/2d 744, 749 (1966)).
U.S. Dept. of Educ.,
Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools
68 F.R. 9646 (Feb. 28, 2003) (hereinafter, “Guidance”),
available at
http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html (last visited August 28, 2007).
. (citing Section 9524 of the Elementary and Secondary Educ. Act of 1965 as amended by the No Child Left
Behind Act of 2001).

See You at the Pole Informational Letter
Organized Prayer Groups and Activities
Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and “see you at the pole”
gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize
other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the
same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular
groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their
expression. School authorities possess substantial discretion concerning whether
to permit the use of school media for student advertising or announcements
regarding non-curricular activities. However, where student groups that meet for
nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce their meetings—for
example, by advertising in a student newspaper, making announcements on a
student activities bulletin board or public address system, or handing out
leaflets—school authorities may not discriminate against groups who meet to
pray. School authorities may disclaim sponsorship of non-curricular groups and
events, provided they administer such disclaimers in a manner that neither favors
nor disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or religious speech.
As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained in
Chandler v. Siegelman
[s]o long as the prayer is genuinely student-initiated, and not the product of any
school policy which actively or surreptitiously encourages it, the speech is private
and it is protected: Permitting students to speak religiously signifies neither state
approval nor disapproval of that speech. The speech is not the State’s—either by
attribution or by adoption. The permission signifies no more than that the State
acknowledges its constitutional duty to tolerate religious expression. Only in this
way is true neutrality achieved.
Students May Share Their Faith At
See You at the Pole
Public school students may share their faith on their campus. In
, the Court
reinforced students’ rights to evangelize on school grounds. The Court’s decisions in
fully protect students’ rights to share their faith. School officials do not have the right
to control or censor student speech solely because the particular speech is religious in nature.
Students also have the right to pass out pamphlets and tracts about Christ to their peers on
So long as students do not disrupt school discipline, school officials must allow
students to be student evangelists.
represents a great victory for Christian high
schools students in America because the Court rejected the argument that allowing students to
meet on campus and to act as student evangelists would violate the Establishment Clause of the
First Amendment.
at 9647.
Chandler v. Siegelman
, 230 F.3d 1313, 1316-1317 (11th Cir. 2000).
See Murdock v. Pennsylvania
, 319 U.S. 105, 108-09 (1942) (“[D]istribution of religious tracts is an age-old form
of missionary evangelism . . . . This form of religious activity occupies the same high estate under the First
Amendment as do worship in the churches and preaching from the pulpits.”)
496 U.S. 249-50.

See You at the Pole Informational Letter
Students May Bring Their Bibles and Wear Religious Clothing at
See You at
the Pole
Students may bring their Bibles and even wear Christian t-shirts at
See You at the Pole
No law or school board policy may prohibit a student from bringing a Bible on campus; the
student is only bound by an obligation not to “materially or substantially interfere” with school
A school cannot force a student to remove a religious t-shirt unless the clothing
violates a school dress code or unless the school can show that the language or graphics on the t-
shirt somehow “materially or substantially interfere” with school discipline. Even in the rare
case when a school can make a showing of material or substantial interference, the student
should be able to wear a different shirt proclaiming a religious message that does not raise the
same concerns about school discipline.
clarifies that student speech cannot be
discriminated against on campus because of its content, and religious t-shirts and Bibles are a
form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Permissible Regulations for Prayer Events.
While school officials may not prohibit students from engaging in protected religious
expression unless it causes a material or substantial disruption of school order, they may impose
reasonable regulations that govern the time, place, and manner of student activities.
regulations cannot target the religious content of the student activity. In addition, any restriction
must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest; it must also leave open
other alternative forms of communication. Students may participate in events with religious
content that take place before or after school, such as
See You at the Pole
gatherings, on the same
terms as they may participate in other non-curriculum activities on school premises. School
officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation at such an event. On-campus
distribution of materials may be reasonably limited by time and location.
Teacher or Administrator Participation.
As a general principle, teachers retain their First Amendment rights in public schools.
The Supreme Court has held that “teachers [do not] shed their constitutional rights . . . at the
school house gate.”
However, public schools have broad authority to safeguard against
Establishment Clause violations. Generally speaking, teachers represent the school when in the
classroom or at school-sponsored events and, therefore, should take care to avoid Establishment
Clause violations.
Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Establishment Clause prohibits a
state entity like a public school from endorsing religion or coercing students to participate in
Distilling multiple court decisions, the U.S. Department of Education’s
mentioned above, addresses the position that teachers and administrators should take:
393 U.S. at 504.
See, e.g., Chandler v. Siegelman
, 230 F.3d at 1317 (government “may neither prohibit genuinely student-initiated
religious speech, nor apply restrictions on the time, place, and manner of that speech which exceed those placed on
stude393 nts’
See, e.g., Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist.
, 37 F.3d 517, 522 (9
Cir. 1994);
Marchi v. Board of Coop.
Educ. Svcs. of Albany, Schoharie, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties
, 173 F.3d 469, 476 (2d Cir. 1999).
See Lee v. Weisman
, 505 U.S. 577 (1992).

See You at the Pole Informational Letter
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers,
school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the
Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively
participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in
religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not
participating in their official capacities. Before school or during lunch, for
example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the
same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities.
Similarly, teachers may participate in their personal capacities in privately
sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies.
Thus, public school teachers, when in communication with their students in their official
capacity, should take care to avoid religiously coercive situations. Teachers in their capacity as
school officials may not actively participate in or lead a student religious meeting. However,
teachers and administrators may also violate the Establishment Clause by discouraging activity
because of its religious content, or by soliciting or encouraging anti-religious activity.
To determine if a teacher has a right to attend events such as
See You at the Pole
, several
factors, including the time of day and manner of participation, must be taken into consideration.
If the event occurs during “non-contract time,” teachers should be able to participate in the event
without violating the Establishment Clause so long as they make it clear that they are present in
their roles as citizens rather than in their official capacities. This may necessitate that teachers
wishing to attend the event take affirmative steps to prevent any confusion among students
concerning their participation.
Parent or Other Adult Participation.
Parents and other adults should be allowed to participate in
See You at the Pole
events to
the same extent that adults may attend on-campus events held by other student groups. Parents
and other adults should be sure to comply with the school’s policies regarding visitors. Schools
are usually granted broad discretion to develop such policies, so long as they do not discriminate
on the basis of religion. For example, school officials often require that non-student visitors
check in when they enter campus for student safety purposes. Even though
See You at the Pole
is usually held before school hours and is usually held outside the school building, parents should
still follow school visitor policies. School officials have a legitimate interest in regulating a
visitor’s presence on campus at any given time. Thus, due to the early hour of
See You at the
, parents may need to notify school officials of their planned participation ahead of time.
In sum, we hope that this informational letter has clarified students’, teachers’, and parents’
ability to participate in
See You at the Pole
events on public school campuses.
U.S. Dept. Educ.
n.8, at 9647.

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