By: sumner, fidonet.org (1:1/31) Re: Religion in Schools @Apparently-to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: sumner, fidonet.org (1:1/31)
Re: Religion in Schools
From: Charles Sumner
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
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
Q> Can public school students bring their Bibles to school or pray at
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
Q> Can students distribute religious material or proselytize their
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
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
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
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;
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
email@example.com 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
@Subject: Religion in Schools
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank