Friday, May 16, 2008

Christian Rights in Public Schools

There have been several occasions in which parents from our congregation have asked me questions pertaining to the religious rights of their children who attend public schools. I have to admit that I have not always known the answers. But, I always do my best to help them find good information.

Recently, I became aware of a great contact and some helpful information on this topic. The Christian Law Association (CLA) appears to be a fantastic source for asking questions and/or reporting problems and legal difficulty in regards to practicing one's faith in public life. I have not personally contacted CLA yet, but I have communicated with others who have and reported them to be extremely helpful. The CLA contact information is on their website. They apparently encourage people to contact them with their legal questions.

The CLA website contains a nice section entitled 'Public School Rights Video Series'. This site contains over a dozen brief videos (about 30 to 45 seconds each) addressing commonly asked questions about religious rights in public schools. Below is a snapshot of the videos' content (the link to the actual videos is at the end of this blog entry).

May students pray in America's public schools?
Yes! Students have a free speech right to pray at any time in school including before lunch, before tests, in the hallway, and so forth. Teachers, however, are not permitted to pray with students.

May students carry & read their Bibles in America's public schools?
Yes! Students may carry their Bibles and read them at any appropriate time including in study hall, during free reading time, during breaks, at lunch, (or, presumably, any other time they are not expected to be doing something else).

May students pass out Gospel tracts or other religious material in America's public schools?
Yes! A tract is simply speech in writing and handing them out is Constitutionally protected. They may hand them out in hallways, outside, and so forth, but may be restricted from handing them out in the classroom (presumably because this may disrupt the class).

May students choose religious topics for projects in America's public schools?
Yes! A student may choose a religious topic for a project as long as the teacher allows for choice of topics, and as long as the assignment meets all of the requirements of the project.

Must Christian students be permitted to wear modest clothing to gym class in America's public schools?
Yes! If a family's religion requires modest dress, the parents should contact the school and request a religious accommodation for their child. The parents must initiate the request. The school has the duty to uphold the faith of the family in these matters.

Must Christian students be permitted to opt-out of objectionable activities in America's public schools?
Yes! If a school activity is objectionable to the family's religious beliefs, the parents may contact the school and request an 'opt-out' for their child. The parents must initiate the request. The school has the duty to uphold the faith of the family in these matters.

Must students be permitted to establish a student-run Bible club in America's public schools?
Yes! Congress has established the right for students to organize and conduct Bible Clubs as long as the clubs are student initiated and student led.

May students use Christian-themed book covers or other materials in America's public schools?
Yes! Students have the absolute right to choose pencils, pens, folders, book covers, and other materials with religious messages.

May students talk about religion in classroom discussion in America's public schools?
Yes! Students may make religious comments in class as long as the comment is appropriate to the curriculum and topic at hand. Students, however, should not proselytize in the classroom.

May students wear a Christian or pro-life message on their clothing in America's public schools?
Yes! As long as a school allows other logos, slogans, etc. on clothing those with religious content must be permitted. Schools cannot discriminate against a religious or pro-life message.

May students present religious material in a school talent show in America's public schools?
Yes! For example may choose to sing a religious song.

May a student mention "God" or religious speech in a graduation speech in America's public schools?
Yes! A student may give a personal testimony in a speech. However, students should not proselytize in this venue.

Do Christian students who object have to celebrate Halloween in America's public schools?
No! If the celebration is objectionable to the family's religious beliefs the parents may contact the school and request an 'opt-out' to be excused from participating in the activities. The parents must be involved in the request.

Links of interest:

Christian Law Association
Public School Rights Video Series

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