We as parents need to be well-versed about issues concerning religion and religious liberty in public schools. In the years following Barak Obama’s announcement that the United States was “no longer just a Christian nation,” leaders in our schools have interpreted that comment as license to eradicate Christians and Christianity from the schools.
To add fuel to the fire, organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation go to great lengths to bully school districts into impeding the guarantees afforded us by the 1st amendment. They twist and distort our constitution under the guise of freedom.
We must stand up to organizations and misinformed school leaders. In order to do so, we need to be armed with a weapon which begets their greatest fear - knowledge.
The following questions and answers will help you discern and understand the appropriate role of religion in the public schools and how the 1st amendment is meant to protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths.
1. Can students express their faith while in school?
Yes. Students can pray, read their Bibles, discuss their faith, and invite others to join their church or youth group. However, the student may not be harassing or intimidating about it. Although, as Christians, we’re not supposed to be bullying people into belief, right? A great example of how to evangelized comes from Jesus in John 4 when He begins with just a simple conversation with the woman at the well.
Also, students have the right to express their religious views during a class discussion or as part of an assignment as long as it’s relevant to the subject being taught.
2. Can students pray together?
Yes. Students can pray which each other or alone as long as they are not disregarding the rights of others. For example, they can’t get up in front of class and pray and expect other students to participate. Think about it, I wouldn’t want a prayer to Allah from the Quran recited in front of my child. It’s about respect for all religions and all student’s beliefs.
The school officials or school teachers may not initiate or sponsor prayer events or other religious activities. The Supreme Court has ruled against state-sponsored or state-organized prayer in public schools. The government is supposed to be neutral between religions or those that are not religious. This is why our moment of prayer became a moment of silence instead.
God is omniscient and foreknew the state of our culture at this point in time. He knew that America would “no longer just be a Christian nation.” Removing prayer time from the schools protects our children in that they do not have to listen to prayers of Islam, Wiccan, or other anti-Christian mockery.
3. Can students say prayers at graduation ceremonies?
No. and Yes. Lower courts are divided about this topic and have become state specific. Some schools offer a free speech forum where prayer or religious expression is welcome and open to all kinds of speech. Including speech critical of a religion.
4. Can teachers teach about religion?
Yes. Teaching about religion is allowed. It must be purely academic and not devotional in nature. Study about religion can be part of the curriculum wherever it naturally arises. Social studies, literature, and the arts offer many opportunities for the inclusion of information about the ideas and practices of religion. Religion may also be studied in special courses.
In addition, students may be taught about the history and traditions of particular religious holidays. Teachers may use religious symbols as teaching aids. However, actually celebrating the religious holiday is not allowed.
Religious music may be sung or played as part of a school’s academic program. School concerts that present a variety of selections may include religious music.
5. Can students be excused from parts of the curriculum for religious reasons?
Maybe. If its proven particular lessons are a substantial burden a student's free exercise of religion, and if the school cannot prove a compelling interest in requiring attendance, some courts may require schools to excuse the student.
6. Can religious clubs be formed?
Yes. According to the federal Equal Access Act, schools must allow students to form religious clubs if the school allows other noncurriculum-related clubs to meet during non-instructional time. “Noncurriculum-related” means any club not directly related to the courses offered by the school.
Student religious clubs may also have access to school facilities and media on the same basis as other noncurriculum-related student clubs.
Some interesting caveats to this rule include banning teachers from participating (they may only “monitor”), and any outside adults cannot direct or regularly attend meetings of these clubs.
Public schools are free to prohibit any club activities that are illegal or that would cause substantial disruption of the school.
7. Can students wear religious clothes and/or religious symbols?
Yes. Students can wear religious messages on their clothes to the same extent that other messages are allowed. In other words, if the school allows t-shirts with Justin Bieber lyrics, it must also allow a t-shirt with a Bible verse, regardless of who is “offended.”
8. Can students hand out religious literature?
Yes. As long as it complies with the school’s restrictions regarding a reasonable time, place, and manner. For example, the school may specify when and where the distribution may occur like only after school in the lobby. These restrictions must apply equally to all non-school student literature.
Over the past eight years we’ve seen the abrupt erosion of religious liberties in our nation. Christianity has been particularly attacked. Freedoms we once took for granted are being bullied right out from under us.
Know what to teach your children and grandchildren. Teach them to stand up for their beliefs in an honorable, impartial, kind way as Jesus did.
Jesus didn’t demand Christianity be the religion all must follow, but he did not shrink from proclaiming the good news of salvation through Him.
**These questions and answers are meant to provide general information. For more detailed descriptions of how the Supreme Court has ruled in an effort to define the 1st amendment, please visit The Center for Religious Expression. This above information was sought from The National PTA and First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.
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