By Madeline Ziegler
Freedom From Religion Foundation
The movement started in Texas in 1990 as an ostensibly student-initiated, student-led event where students would gather to pray before school. It has snowballed into a national annual event backed by a litany of Christian Right groups listed as “Supporting Ministries” on the See You At The Pole website. Each year has a biblical theme; this year’s is “A generation seeking Him!—Psalm 24:3-6.” (That verse warns against those who “swear by a false god.”)
Here’s what is and isn’t allowed—if you think your school isn’t following the rules, let us know at ffrf.org/legal/report.
Students may organize and participate in See You At The Pole. However, nonreligious students must be free to organize their own events on the same terms as religious students. Moreover, no school staff can participate in any way. Staff may supervise, but they cannot join the prayer circle or otherwise show solidarity with student exercises—federal courts have said that this is unconstitutional. School employees also cannot encourage (or discourage) student participation. Students can use whatever typical channels of communication are available to students at their school to publicize the occasion, but the school should not promote the event on its own.
Frequently, advertisements will invite staff and/or community members to participate in See You At The Pole. Sometimes, a teacher or administrator will inappropriately promote the event during morning announcements or in a newsletter. In the worst cases, teachers have actually brought their elementary school classes to the flagpole and led the students in prayer. These are all unacceptable. School support for the occasion indicates that the school favors religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over all other faiths, which is unconstitutional.
Even See You at the Pole’s official website recognizes that adults should not be involved in their events:
See You at the Pole™ is a student-led event. Strong student leadership is crucial. Adult volunteers and parents should not lead the See You at the Pole™ gathering. Many well-meaning adults take over and take away from the students by trying to lead out in the prayers at the flagpole. This is not the intention for See You at the Pole™, nor is it legal for adults to lead. Please step back or stay away and let the students grow and learn in their faith by leading.
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The best place for an adult to pray on the day of See You at the Pole™ is not on campus with the students, but at alternate locations.
FFRF has already stopped one potential constitutional violation this year, as Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif., revised its weekly bulletin, which had advertised that “ALL students and staff are welcome” at its See You At The Pole event. If there’s a SYATP problem at your school, please fill out our Report a Violation form—we’d love to help fix it.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. We depend on member support. Please join today.
Madeline Ziegler is FFRF’s Cornelius Vanderbroek Legal Fellow.