How teens experience religion in public schools

Around half of U.S. students commonly see students in their schools wearing religious clothing or jewelry and about 40% have seen schoolmates praying before sporting events. That’s according to a Pew Research Center survey of more than 1,800 teenagers.

The survey asked students how frequently they’ve seen other students engage in a variety of religious expressions, including wearing religious clothing, praying before lunch, praying before sporting events, inviting other students to religious events, and reading religious texts at school. Only 8% of students said they have seen schoolmates engaging in four or five of the activities. It was more common for students to say they’d seen two (20%) or three (13%) such activities, and almost a third (32%) said that they’d rarely or never seen any of them (or they did not answer the question).

Clothing and jewelry are most common forms of religious expression seen in public schools

The survey also sought information on how often students engaged in these activities themselves. Around 3 in 10 said they regularly engaged in one or more of these activities in the school day, while roughly half said they never did (or didn’t answer the question).

Most teenagers did not experience or observe hostility about or toward religion in their schools. Although most respondents said they’d seen bullying at their schools, only 13% said it was related to a student’s religion. Less than a tenth said that other students (9%) or teachers (5%) had made disparaging comments about their religion. At the same time, 8% of public school students said that they’d had a teacher lead their class in prayer, with the same percentage reporting that a teacher had read from the Bible as an example of literature.

The full report includes more details on how some of these responses break down by region, religion, gender, race, and age.

In the 2019 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, majorities of those surveyed said  schools should offer classes in Bible studies and comparative religions, with small percentages of Americans saying they should be required. For an in-depth look:

Source: Pew Research Center. (2019, October 3). For a lot of American teens, religion is a regular part of the public school day. Washington, DC: Author.

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