By: sumner, fidonet.org (1:1/31) Re: Religion in Schools @Apparently-to: abacus@f890.n102.

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By: sumner, fidonet.org (1:1/31) Re: Religion in Schools @Apparently-to: abacus@f890.n102.z1.fidonet.org From: Charles Sumner Reply-To: sumner@rochgte.fidonet.org Religious Expression in Public Schools Separating Fact from Fiction Many questions remain unanswered about the degree of religious expression permissible in the public schools. Due in large part to misinformation circulated by the Religious Right, many people have the wrong impression about the law governing issues such as student Bible clubs, distribution of religious literature, invocations and benedictions in graduation ceremonies, and the ability of religious organizations to use public school facilities. This pamphlet seeks to clarify typical questions about religion and public schools. Q> Are student religious groups permitted to meet on school grounds? A> Generally, yes. Depending upon the school's policy of allowing noncurriculum student clubs to meet on public school property, student religious groups may be provided the same degree of access to a school's facilities. The Equal Access Act (EAA) was passed by Congress in 1984 in order to prevent discrimination against student groups in public secondary schools which have created "open forums" for student expression. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the EAA in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990). Essentially the Court stated that if a secondary school allows other noncurriculum student clubs to meet, it must afford a religious club the same access. Q> What restrictions may be placed on such student religious clubs? A> First and foremost, student religious clubs may not be school sponsored or related to the curriculum. The clubs must be completely student-initiated, and student-run; school personnel may not direct or participate in the religious clubs in any manner. In addition, because the clubs are considered extra-curricular, they must meet during noninstructional time, usually before or after the school day. Finally, while the clubs may invite outside speakers - such as youth ministers - no outside person may attend regularly or attend the student clubs. In essence, the clubs are to provide opportunity for voluntary student religious expression, not to serve as staging areas for proselytizing by local churches. Q> What about other religious organizations using public school facilities? A> Outside religious groups are barred from public schools during school hours. This includes prohibiting groups such as the Gideons from distributing Bibles during the school day. School districts are also not required to open their school facilities after hours to outside groups. However, if a public school system does allow secular groups to use it's facilities after instructional hours it may be required to afford similar access to religious groups. In Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 113. S.Ct. 2141 (1993), the Court held that a school district could not deny an evangelical church access to a school's facilities after school hours because it had allowed similar use by other secular organizations. However, the Lamb's Chapel decision was limited to weekend and evening access only and not to outside use during the school day. Allowing religious groups to meet immediately following the school day still raises Establishment Clause concerns because of a likelihood of associating the groups with school programs. The wisest course is to restrict access by all outside groups to times well after the end of the instructional day. Q> Can public school students bring their Bibles to school or pray at school? A> Yes. As part of their freedom of speech, students may bring their Bibles or pray at school so long as it does not interrupt or interfere with the rights of other students and the educational function of the school. Students may read the Bible and engage in informal religious discussion with classmates during lunch period or other free times during the school day. The Supreme Court has never prohibited individual student religious expression in the public schools. Q> Can the Bible or other sacred texts be used in a public school class? A> Yes, so long as the religious material is presented from an objective, nonproselytizing perspective and is part of a regular academic course. On more than one occasion the Supreme Court has affirmed the propriety of students learning about religious history and traditions. However, courts have repeatedly struck down attempts as indoctrination presented through the guise of courses in Biblical literature or comparative religion. Q> Can students distribute religious material or proselytize their fellow classmates? A> Notions of student free speech include the ability to share one's religious faith. However, school authorities may limit the distribution of religious material or proselytizing within the school so long as the school's restrictions are neutral (not directed at prohibiting religious expression) and are related to reasonable time, place, and manner considerations. Valid considerations include preventing student harassment and crowding and the accumulation of litter in the hallways. In addition, schools that do not have open campuses (but impose neutral restrictions on unauthorized student gatherings) may not be required to allow organized religious gatherings outside the confines of the EAA, such as prayer rallies around flagpoles. Q> Is it true that only clergy-led invocations and benedictions during public school graduations are forbidden under the Constitution? A> No. In Lee v. Weisman, 112 C. Ct. 2649 (1992), the Court held that prayers at official public school graduation ceremonies violate the Establishment Clause. One part of the holding rested on the fact that the school had selected a member of the clergy and determined the content of the prayer. However, the Court also held the prayers unconstitutional because students feel compelled to attend their graduation ceremony and would be pressured to participate in the prayer or conform their conduct in accordance of the prayer. Because graduations are always school- sponsored and directed events, any prayer led by a student or clergy would be considered to have official governmental sanction and would be unconstitutional. Q> But didn't the Supreme Court recently hold that student-led prayers at graduation ceremonies are constitutional? A> No! One lower federal court in Texas has made such a ruling (Jones v. Clear Creek Ind. Sch. Dist.) but the Supreme Court has yet to consider this particular issue. Many doubt the constitutionality of this approach because the graduation ceremony is still a school-sponsored event, and the element of coercion discussed in Lee v. Weisman remains regardless of the identity of the speaker. Moreover, the prospect of students voting on prayer raises the specter of religious majority rule, a concept counter to notions of religious liberty. Because of the constitutional problems inherent in Jones, most federal courts have declined to follow that decision. Q> Are private baccalaureate services constitutional? A> Usually, If students, churches, or community groups wish to have a baccalaureate service they may do so without violating the First Amendment so long as the service is not sponsored by the school. Although the school may not endorse the baccalaureate it may announce the time and place of the service with information concerning other graduation events. --- This information is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular situation. Readers are always encouraged to contact an attorney when specific legal questions arise. For more detailed information concerning religion in the public schools and other church-state issues, please contact our office. --- (available in pamphlet form) Americans United for Separation of Church and State 1816 Jefferson Place, Washington, DC 20036-2505; 202-466-3234. For information or membership in the Rochester area, reply to: Rochester Chapter Americans United for Separation of Church and State 3553 West Ridge Road, Rochester, NY 14626-3452 (716) 334-2989, 247-5587 sumner@rochgte.fidonet.org OR 1:2613/270 OR 1:2613/240 ... Campaigns along religious lines will tear a nation apart. --- GIGO+ sn 37 at nisc vsn 0.99.950801 @Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 09:40:02 @Message-Id: <813394928.AA06448@rochgte.fidonet.org> @Subject: Religion in Schools @To: ChState@ecunet.org @Via GIGO 1:1/31, Wed Oct 11 1995 at 11:39 UTC @Via QM 1:13/10, Wed Oct 11 06:40 EST (v1.26/b10) @Via FLAME 1:270/101, Wed Oct 11 13:59 UTC (v1.1/b11) @Via MsgTrack+ 1:280/1, Fri Oct 13 1995 at 09:22 UTC @Via FLAME 1:280/1, Fri Oct 13 09:22 UTC (v1.1) @Via Squish/386 1.11 1:102/2, Sat Oct 14 1995 at 05:31 UTC @Via 1:102/835@FidoNet.org @19951014.065310 FrontDoor 2.20c.mL @Via Squish 1.11 1:102/943, Sat Oct 14 1995 at 13:18 UTC

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