President Trump on Thursday, Jan. 16, announced historic steps to protect the constitutional right to pray in public schools, claiming he would not allow faithful Americans to be bullied by “the hard Left.” 

Accordingly, the law will “remind the chief education officers in all 50 states that students have the right to pray at their own direction, to gather at their own direction, to bring the Bible to school if they choose to, to bring the Quran or the Torah in,” White House Domestic Policy Director Joe Grogan said.

Before the announcement, President Trump welcomed a group of students, teachers, coaches, and religious freedom activists with various faith backgrounds to the White House to share their stories about fighting for faith at school.

Hannah Allen: Told not to pray by her principal

Hannah Allen, a student from Texas was told not to pray by her principal after she and a group of students from her school wanted to pray for a former classmate’s brother who had been hurt in an accident. “Don’t do that again,” her principal said.

Allen shared that the next day, her parents called and complained. “No one should feel ashamed of their faith, especially in school or anywhere,” the student said.

Marilyn Rhames: Teachers who pray 

Marilyn Rhames, a teacher working at Chicago Public Schools, said she was stressed witnessing her schools losing students every year to gun violence. She founded an organization called Teachers Who Pray, asking for the freedom to pray to uplift her spirit so that she can continue the work God has called her to do. 

“I’m here to tell teachers that we need to pray for your faith. We need to pray. We need to buckle and just do what we have to do for our kids because they need us and they’re depending on us,” Rhames said.

William McLeod: Forced to wipe off Ash Wednesday ashes

Nine-year-old William McLeod, of Utah, a Catholic, said teacher forced him to wipe the ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday. When the boy refused, the teacher made him wipe it off in front of all the students. McLeod also shared he was teased for the ashes by other students. 

The president encouraged McLeod saying, “Well, it’s not going to be happening anymore. Okay?”

Chase Windebank: Started a prayer group

Chase Windebank of Colorado spoke of a small prayer group he started that eventually grew to a community of 90 students. He thanked President Trump for his efforts.

Malak Hijaz: Harassed for praying

Malak Hijaz, a student from California spoke of how she was discriminated against for being Muslim. “I pray five times a day and I have to pray at lunch. And I would bring the hijab to cover my hair and kids would make fun of me, harass me, and attack me.”

Ariana Hoblin: Targeted with swastikas

Ariana Hoblin, a student from Florida, is the only Jewish person at school. Hoblin said she is very open with her religion and was harassed.

When she was in middle school, students wrote swastikas on her belongings and her arms. She was pushed and shoved in the hallway. “They even went so far as to take my face and put it on Anne Frank’s body. And it was sent around to three different schools.  And I was terrified to say I was Jewish,” Hoblin emotionally shared her story.

But Hoblin said things are better at her high school, and she is still proudly sharing her faith, now people are supportive of her. “Anyone in school should be able to say, ‘I am what whatever religion I am.  And I practice this and I believe this,'” Hoblin said. 

Coach Joe Kennedy: Fired for praying with his team

Joe Kennedy, a football coach from Washington state was fired for praying with his team after games. School officials worried that those prayers might give the appearance that the district approved of coach Kennedy’s public prayers, creating a potential endorsement of religion. They eventually fired Kennedy, who calls that act a violation of his right to free speech.

At the remarks, Kennedy thanked the president for his efforts to fight for religious freedom.

Emily Chaney: Forced to take down her prayer locker

Emily Chaney, a student from Kentucky was heartbroken when her teacher asked to have her prayer locker taken down. Chaney started the prayer locker to help children who had different prayer requests to know someone was there for them and cared for them.  

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, however, sent a letter to the school board that the prayer lockers needed to be taken down. 

Chaney was disappointed with the decision, adding she felt like the prayer locker had helped move in her community and school.

The Department of Education has sent letters to officials in all 50 sates to ensure students and teachers don’t face discrimination for practicing their right of religious freedom.

Importantly, public schools now risk losing federal funds if they violate students’ rights to religious expression.

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