PolitiFact: Perry's claim of ban on kids praying in school is false

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses the 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, in Washington.
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Texas Gov. Rick Perry is making waves - and trying to mount a campaign comeback - with a recent outreach to evangelical voters in Iowa, including an ad that is critical of gay soldiers serving openly in the military while "our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

Problem is, that's not quite true, according to an article by the fact-checking website PolitiFact that rates the ad's claims as "false."

"Based on checking the schoolhouse scene in Iowa and Texas and consulting an array of national experts, it's clear that school officials are not permitted to organize prayers or focus on a single religion in connection with Christmas, but kids may pray and also celebrate the holiday on their own," the site's article reads.

The piece focuses on the laws in both Iowa, the target of Perry's ad, and Texas, his home state. In Iowa, PolitiFact says, citing the state's Education Department general counsel, children can pray and celebrate Christmas in school. Guidance that is circulated among the schools prohibits displaying religious symbols, school-wide prayer or Scripture readings, and concerts that only feature religious music. The document also warns officials against holding "Christmas" parties, though "holiday" or "end-of-semester" parties are permitted.

Texas law, PolitiFact found, actually provides an opportunity for student prayer by setting aside a moment of silence each day for students to "reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student."

A spokeswoman from the Texas Education Agency told the fact-checking site that Christmas celebrations are handled on a district level.

"So, can kids pray and openly celebrate Christmas in school? Absolutely, we conclude, though public school officials are barred from advancing a religion or making children pray or celebrate solely the Christian aspects of Christmas," the article concludes. "The Supreme Court has not held that students can't pray; Perry's home state even has laws protecting that right. The highest court also hasn't held that kids can't openly celebrate Christmas at school. [Perry's] statement shakes out as False."

The Perry campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.