[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 30, 1998]
[Pages 853-855]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

The President's Radio Address
May 30, 1998

    Good morning. I want to talk to you today about the role of faith in 
our lives and in the education of our children.
    Our Nation was founded by people of deep religious beliefs, some of 
whom came here to escape oppression because of their beliefs. Their

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trust in God is enshrined in one of our most treasured documents, the 
Declaration of Independence. Today, Americans are still a profoundly 
religious people, and our faith continues to sustain us.
    Our Founders believed the best way to protect religious liberty was 
to first guarantee the right of everyone to believe and practice 
religion according to his or her conscience and, second, to prohibit our 
Government from imposing or sanctioning any particular religious belief. 
That's what they wrote into the first amendment. They were right then, 
and they're right now.
    But resolving these two principles has not always been easy, 
especially when it comes to our public schools. Just as our religious 
faith guides us in our everyday lives, so, too, do our Nation's public 
schools strengthen the moral foundation of our society. We trust our 
schools to teach our children and to give them the knowledge and skills 
they need to succeed in life.
    But schools do more than train children's minds. They also help to 
nurture their souls by reinforcing the values they learn at home and in 
their communities. I believe one of the best ways we can help our 
schools to do this is by supporting students' right to voluntarily 
practice their religious beliefs, including prayer in school, and to 
pursue religious activities on school grounds. Studies show that 
children who are involved in religious activities are much less likely 
to use drugs. In a world that increasingly exposes children to images of 
violence and immorality, common sense tells us they are more likely to 
stay out of trouble and live up to their full potential when they're 
spiritually grounded.
    There's no question that the issue of prayer in schools is a complex 
and emotional one for many Americans. It has long been a matter of great 
controversy in our courts. But nothing in the Constitution requires 
schools to be religion-free zones where children must leave their faiths 
at the schoolhouse door.
    To help clear up the confusion about what kind of religious activity 
is and must be permissible in public schools, in 1995 we issued 
comprehensive guidelines to every school district in America. These 
guidelines represent a very broad consensus of many religious groups. 
Here is what is at their core: students have the right to pray privately 
and individually in school; they have the right to say grace at 
lunchtime; they have the right to meet in religious groups on school 
grounds and to use school facilities, just like any other club; they 
have the right to read the Bible or any religious text during study hall 
or free class time; they also have the right to be free from coercion to 
participate in any kind of religious activity in school.
    Now, since we've issued these guidelines, appropriate religious 
activity has flourished in our schools, and there has apparently been a 
substantial decline in the contentious argument and litigation that has 
accompanied this issue for too long.
    The guidelines have encouraged communities to develop common 
understandings about what kind of religious activity is permissible in 
schools and help them to avoid costly lawsuits and divisive disputes. 
For example, after parents sued the school board because their son was 
wrongly punished for praying quietly in the cafeteria, St. Louis used 
the guidelines to adopt more explicit policies for the future. In 
suburban Atlanta, where schools hold workshops and distribute the 
guidelines to teachers at the beginning and middle of every school year, 
disputes about religious activity have all but disappeared.
    To make sure our national guidelines are consistent with current 
court cases, so that more school districts follow these communities' 
lead, we are reissuing the guidelines with minor modifications, and 
we're mailing them to every school district in the country. I call on 
all districts to make sure the guidelines are understood and used by 
school principals, teachers, parents, and students themselves.
    Helping communities to find common ground about religious expression 
is the right way to protect religious freedom. There's also a wrong way: 
amending the Constitution. Some people say there should be a 
constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in our public 
schools. But there already is one; it's the first amendment. For more 
than 200 years, the first amendment has protected our religious freedom 
and allowed many faiths to flourish in our homes, in our workplaces, and 
in our schools. Clearly understood and sensibly applied, it works. It 
does not need to be rewritten.
    George Washington once said that Americans have, and I quote, 
``abundant reason to rejoice that in this land, every person may worship 
God according to the dictates of his own heart.'' Americans still have 
cause to rejoice that this most precious liberty is just as strong today 

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it was then, and it will still be there for our children in the 21st 
    Thanks for listening.

Note: The address was recorded at 12:11 p.m. on May 29 in the Oval 
Office at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on May 30.