Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Educational Administration

Major Professor

C. Kenneth Tanner

Committee Members

Dewey H. Stollar, Peter M. Husen


The purpose of this study was (1) to analyze the interpretation given by the United States Supreme Court to the principle of separation of church and state, through its decisions pertaining to various religious practices; (2) to determine the nature and extent of these practices in the public schools of Tennessee; and (3) to offer some basis for comparing current practices with the legal provisions.

The Court interpretations, as they apply to public education, may be summarized as follows. Public schools may not do the following: (1) aid a religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another; (2) assist religious groups in spreading their faiths; (3) force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion; or (4) exhibit hostility toward any religion or religious belief.

To determine the types of religious activities in the public schools of Tennessee, questionnaires were mailed to public school teachers across the state. The sample was drawn from the membership of the Tennessee Education Association. A total of 275 returns, representing a 90.8 percent return, was analyzed.

Based on the analysis of the data, the following is a summary of significant findings: (1) Two-fifths of the teachers have Bible reading for devotional purposes. (2) One-third read religious literature other than the Bible. (3) One-third recite classroom prayers. (4) Two-fifths have oral or silent prayer before lunch. (5) One-seventh have award programs for Bible memory work. (6) One-tenth require Bible memory work. (7) Four-fifths relate religion to subject matter when pertinent. (8) Eight of every nine teachers have as an educational objective the teaching of spiritual values. (9) Less than one teacher in twenty has ever had a student or parent object to religious practices. (10) Two-fifths of those teachers teaching before the Supreme Court's prayer and Bible-reading decisions have changed as a result of the decisions. (11) Almost four-fifths disagree with the Supreme Court's prayer and Bible-reading decisions. (12) One-sixth of the teachers have read at least one of the Court decisions. (13) There is a greater tendency for those who have read the decisions to agree with them. (14) There is a greater tendency for those who agree with the Court to abide by its rulings.

In conclusion, several religious practices in the public schools of Tennessee are in violation of the principle of separation of church and state as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States.

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