Students’ Religious Freedom in Public Schools

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Last fall, I wrote a five-part series called “How to Help Your Kids Confront Cultural Lies.” These posts address how the public schools teach and promote worldviews that differ from and even attack the biblical worldview. I provided some resources here and here to help parents train their kids to identify cultural lies. When children can recognize cultural lies, they are more likely to keep their faith while being educated in a spiritually hostile environment. In the first installment, I asked:

“Are your children ready to defend their faith in this environment? I don’t just mean, Can they explain their faith to others? I mean, Can they recognize and confront cultural lies so they can maintain their own beliefs in the gospel? Have you trained your children to discern the truth from the false worldviews presented in the schools?”

“How to Help Your Kids Confront Cultural Lies,” part 1

Now, I’d like to follow up on that series with what religious speech rights students have in the public schools. Not only should your children be wary of being taken captive by worldly thinking, but they also should know they are allowed to express their biblical worldview in their public school.

Don’t Be Mislead

The culture tells us that religion doesn’t belong in the schools. However, students don’t have to check their beliefs at the schoolhouse door according to the US Supreme Court:

“First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Legal Information Institute

Public educators, however, often are unacquainted with the above information.

As a homeschooler, I read the Home School Legal Defense Association’s magazine for over a decade. This publication always listed stories of how educators, lacking knowledge of their state’s homeschool laws, would interfere with a family’s homeschool rights.

In the same way, public school administrations and faculty get caught up in the myth of the separation of church and state and repress the religious rights of students out of ignorance. Sometimes they do so out of hostility. Such people attack religious expression because they believe religion has no place in the schools. One reason for this belief is rooted in the Blaine Amendments of the late 1800s. See my Academy Northwest blog post on this topic. In other cases, activists pressure school officials to suppress the expression of faith in school campuses.

Contrary to what culture tells us, the Founders of our nation held religion as a necessary part of education. According to the Founding Fathers, for students to become good citizens, they needed to understand and embrace the biblical ideas on which the United States was founded. Only then could the republic be preserved. Most importantly, the First Amendment guarantees that all Americans have the right to live out their faith, or no faith at all, in all areas of their lives, including at school.

Students’ Religious Speech Rights

A student’s religious speech does not establish a religion. Therefore, it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause. Students may participate in the following activities outside instruction time (at recess or break, at lunch, or before and after school):

  • Read their Bible or other religious materials. This may be appropriate during a free-reading time during class as well.
  • Talk about their faith with classmates.
  • Organize prayer groups or religious clubs and promote these meetings when schools allow non-academic clubs on campus.
  • Attend off-campus religious studies during school hours.

Students may also express their faith in classwork and homework when it fits within a given assignment. They may also speak about their faith at school events and during graduation ceremonies.

Religious Liberty Resources

The list of resources below describes what students may do and what schools cannot do concerning religious liberty. Some of these organizations consist of lawyers who defend religious freedom in the court system.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment requires public school officials to show neither favoritism toward nor hostility against religious expression such as prayer…As the Court has explained in several cases, ‘there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.’”

See the link above for the full text of the federal guidelines.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom provides free legal services to those who have had their religious liberties violated or restricted. Their students’ rights list includes policies to watch out for in addition to what students can do and what schools can’t do in regards to religious expression. This list also includes real stories that illustrate conflicts that have occurred and their remedies.
  • Becket fights for religious liberty for all faiths (Catholic in origin). They have won several cases on religious freedom in public schools. See their site for summaries of these cases.
  • Bibles in Schools seeks to place Bibles in all schools, so families will be transformed by Jesus Christ. This publication, The Bible and the Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, explains students’ religious rights and how teachers can use the Bible in academic study.
  • Focus on the Family’s Day of Dialogue is a national free-speech initiative and website for students in public schools and colleges. It encourages students to use their free speech to discuss the issues of the day from a biblical worldview and to winsomely share the gospel. See their list of students’ religious rights in public schools.
  • Gateways to Better Education provides instruction to public school educators on how they can legally teach about the Bible and how Christianity shaped our world. Their list of resources for Christian students in public schools offers many ways students can express their faith.
  • Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm, specializes in constitutional and civil rights issues. Their five-page handout, Students’ Rights on Public School Campuses, provides a more in-depth description of student rights than some of the other lists.
  • Liberty First Institute, another legal organization, defends the religious liberties of individuals in schools, the military, and the greater community, and protects houses of worship as well. Read summaries of various cases on their site.

May these resources help you and your children learn how they can live out their faith while attending a public school.

One thought on “Students’ Religious Freedom in Public Schools

  1. Pingback: COVID19 Creates Time for Family Bible Study | Lorinda's Ponderings

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