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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, however, is a combination of ignorance and an over-abundance of caution in the effort to avoid litigation.

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