Jefferson never directly addressed the issue of school prayer, but he did address a similar issue, namely the matter of declaring a National Day of Prayer. As the quote below indicates, he believed that the Constitution has precluded the United States from any authority over religious exercises, and that civil powers alone are the government's responsibility. School prayer -- unquestionably a religious exercise -- is not the business of government, nor proper for it to prescribe or even recommend.
"It is... proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises which the Constitution has directly precluded them from. It must be meant, too, that this recommendation is to carry some authority and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; not indeed of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree of proscription perhaps in public opinion. And does the change in the nature of the penalty make the recommendation less a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed?... Civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Miller, 1808.
The Jeffersonian Perspective:
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