Standing for Faith & Prayer in Public School
by Bret Eckelberry
“I realized more than ever when it was taken away, that a faith community in school is a really important thing.”
When Chase couldn’t attend a before-school prayer group his freshman year of high school in 2014, he decided to start his own prayer group during free period. Students gathered on the gym floor to pray for one another, for their teachers, and for issues facing their school. The prayer group continued into Chase’s sophomore and junior years with a consistent gathering of 10 to 20 students.
However, the group exploded his senior year. 90 students were attending the group twice a week during their free period to pray and worship. That’s when a school official contacted Chase and told him the group could no longer meet. The reasoning? “Separation of church and state.”
‘We do have the right to pray’
Chase was quick to produce copies of some laws supporting the group’s right to religious expression during free time.
“Other kids are using this time to play pickup basketball games or talk to their teachers or talk to their friends,” Chase informed the school official. “We do have the right to pray.”
The school disagreed.
Chase was disappointed with the school’s decision to not let the students pray together. Even still, he encouraged his fellow prayer group attendees to honor the school’s authority. The students began praying on their own throughout the halls of the school, instead. But Chase wasn’t giving up. He began seeking help.
Setting a precedent for public schools
Help came in the form of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which filed a federal lawsuit on the students’ behalf. The process was long – it took the rest of Chase’s senior year.
A few days before Chase graduated, the school reversed course and said that students could pray during free time. This set a precedent at other schools across the nation for the protection of this religious right.
They had won their religious liberties back.
An unexpected opportunity from prayer
Nearly five years after Chase stood up for the rights of students to pray in his school, he was contacted by an unexpected source – the White House.
They wanted to hear his story.
One month later, Chase was standing in the Oval Office sharing his experience with the President of the United States on National Religious Freedom Day. That same day, the President would announce several initiatives his Administration would take to increase protections for religious freedom in the lives of Americans. This included updating guidance to America’s schools regarding the First Amendment’s guarantee of students’ right to pray.
Standing for and living out faith in Christ
Chase says that the entire process encouraged him to trust in God and rely on the community of faith. Now a youth pastor, Chase shares the lessons he learned with his students, encouraging them to live out their faith in Christ in both big and small ways.
“It doesn’t have to be starting a prayer meeting, and it doesn’t, especially, have to be involved in a federal lawsuit. It can simply be being kind to a teacher that’s difficult, or actively loving the bully or the people who are overlooked at school. It’s really important to just boldly live out the faith.”
Bret Eckelberry serves as the Project Manager for Education Issues at Focus on the Family and helps facilitate Bring Your Bible to School Day. He and his wife live in Colorado.