Skip to content

Religious Freedom at School

January 13, 2019

Little Red Schoolhouse on Route 662, Talbot County, Maryland, Author Nyttend (PD)

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  However, the right to express Christian beliefs in a public school setting is often misunderstood.

In interpreting that right, courts frequently rely on the following [1]:

The Equal Access Act of 1984 – This Act requires public secondary schools to allow students to meet for religious speech (including prayer, Bible study, and worship) on the same basis as other student groups which do not relate to curriculum.  The Act is triggered if a school permits at least one such group to meet.  Though the Act by its terms applies only to secondary schools, the Supreme Court in 2001 extended the equal access principle, also, to elementary schools.

Section 9524 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 – This Act requires that, to receive federal funding, school districts annually certify they have no policy in effect which prevents or denies participation in constitutionally permitted prayer, whether in public elementary or secondary schools.

Religious Expression in the Public Schools – Last updated in 1998, this originated as guidance by Clinton Administration, Secretary of Education Richard Riley to the nation’s school superintendents.  It sets out the settled law in the area of religious freedom in schools.

Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools – This originated in 2003, under the more conservative Bush Administration.  However, it closely mirrors the Clinton Administration’s Religious Expression in the Public Schools.

Among the student activities protected are the following:

  • Praying alone and in groups;
  • Reading the Bible;
  • Sharing their religious beliefs with other students, and openly expressing those beliefs in homework, art, and other assignments;
  • Distributing religious literature to other students, on the same basis as non-religious literature;
  • Wearing clothing with a religious message, if clothing with a non-religious message is permitted.

Public schools may teach about religion, including the Bible, in history or comparative religion classes; in music, art, and literature classes.  They may not, however, prosthelytize.

[1]  The Christian Lawyer, Fall 2018, “Religious Freedom in Schools” by Kim Colby.


From → Christian, Religion

  1. Such a blessed share. My prayers are for the world to turn to Christ. By the Will of God and our constant prayers, this will happen.

  2. So, the law seems clear yet both schools and activist judges seem to be ignoring it.

  3. Very good, Anna. Many school districts must not know this because a lot of them cave with just the threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU.

    • That is exactly why the Clinton and Bush guidelines were circulated. I find it sad that the ACLU (which prides itself on protecting civil liberties) can find no more urgent battles to fight.

  4. Great post Anna,
    It is good to know the laws, since many times the school system goes against the laws to stamp out any mention of God.

    • Some of that is outright hostility toward religion. Some of it is ignorance. And some of it is an over-abundance of caution, in the effort to avoid litigation.

  5. What I find the most distressing about this subject is the apparent lack of concern from most parents to better understand the law. Like so many other areas of life, we seem to be all too willing to roll over and play dead rather than fight to ensure the law is upheld. I guess it’s easier to just go along in order to avoid any confrontation. From what I have read, this is not how this great nation was built. May we rediscover that courage before there is nothing left to fight for!

  6. dolphinwrite permalink

    As a public school teacher for over two decades, one who has been in favor of homeschooling and school choices, I always worked towards doing my part to inspire, educate, and encourage realization. Those “ah haa” moments that opens understanding.
    Today, we here so much about students with problems, difficulties, and internal conflicts, whether it be bullying, home issues, or otherwise. I always did my part to hear my students and within reason, take opportunities for discussions and conflict resolution. But what I couldn’t do, publicly, was encourage them to pray. If this is the only life we can know, that our problems and material things are all we have, then for some life can be pretty bleak, and how do students in need of answers when none seems to be forthcoming, and the answers they are getting, whether medicines or talks are all they have? Hope is a very real answer. A belief in something good, something above, that love and hope are real can carry people through some difficult times. And Christianity, as I’ve read and understood, carries the answers. My job is not to push my beliefs on others, but also not to remove the very hope they are looking for. And if a student chooses to have a bible on their desk, read it when time avails, and take a few moments to pray, I can only see that as hope and encouraging to the other students.

  7. Very informative post. Thank you! Are there public schools that try to limit these rights?

    • Not all schools understand these rights clearly. Far too many mistakenly believe that the mention of religion is forbidden under all circumstances.

      • dolphinwrite permalink

        They’ve been systematically brainwashed. They live in fear of being isolated and fired. It’s all about putting a wet finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. 2 different districts will have different policies which can change with the wind simply by one determined and livid parent.

  8. Reblogged this on 4WORD and commented:

  9. Very informative post, thanks for sharing it.

  10. I believe that the First Amendment states that government should not favor one religion over another, and so, as you’ve said here, expressions of religion in schools should be allowed, as long as that rule’s obeyed. Does that also apply to freedom from religion, i.e. atheism or agnosticism (I hope it does).

    • I assume so. If anything, the tendency in our public schools is to view the mere mention of a deity as prohibited. Historically, the idea of separation of church and state was not meant to scour all reference to religion from our public discourse. It was intended to prevent religious persecution by the state.

      • I think the prevention of religious persecution by the state implies the prevention of denying rights and freedoms of individuals given by the state not being denied due to the rules of any particular religion.

      • That is an interesting viewpoint. Historically, Christian denominations in power did persecute one another, for instance, under England’s Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”). However, the Founding Fathers took the position that the rights and freedoms we enjoy were not given by the state, but rather by the Creator. For that reason, no state can abridge them. What exactly those rights and freedoms are has been variously interpreted by the courts over the centuries.

  11. dolphinwrite permalink

    Freedom of religion means you follow your own understanding regarding beliefs. If one doesn’t believe, then that person follows what they believe. If I’m in a store or someplace else, and someone is praying, reading, or writing about something I don’t believe in, what is that to me? Freedom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: