CHRISTIAN STUDENTS HAVE MANY RIGHTS AT SCHOOL
From the days of the Founding Fathers until the 1960’s Christianity was encouraged and promoted in the schools of America. We old timers remember when our school days began with scripture reading and prayer. In those days there were no restraints on how or when we expressed our faith. Today, however, we have restrictions and it has become law to understand and practice what is allowed and what is not. Within our lifetime America has become home to many citizens of different religions and the relationship between our faith and the government has dramatically changed.
(To find out “how it used to be” read the book, “Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion” by David Barton.)
In 1995 President Clinton directed Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley to prepare a “statement of principles” in order to inform and guide school superintendents across the country. Most of the school officials had heard stories of schools being sued for being too openly Christian and other stories about Christian students who were unfairly treated because of their faith. Fifteen years have elapsed since the Riley report but the following principles are pretty much the same today as they were when the report was issued:
DISCRIMINATION-School authorities may not discriminate against religious activity or speech.
BIBLE READING AND PRAYER-Students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say a prayer before meals, and pray before tests.
DISCUSSIONS-Students may attempt to persuade their peers concerning religious topics, just as they may political topics. Harassment, however, (which is not defined) is not permissible.
SCHOOL WORK-Students may use religious themes in their homework, artwork, or other assignments, and such work should be judged (graded) by ordinary academic standards.
LITERATURE-Students have the right to distribute religious literature (tracts, etc.) to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature.
RELIGIOUS OBJECTIONS-Students may be excused from lessons that are objectionable on religious or other conscientious grounds.
CLOTHING-Students may wear clothing depicting religious themes, and these messages may not be singled out for suppression. They are subject to the same rules as apply to comparable messages.
CHRISTIAN GROUPS-Students religious groups at public secondary schools have the same right of access to school facilities as is enjoyed by other comparable student groups.
STUDENT MEETINGS-Student meetings may include a prayer service, Bible reading, or other worship exercises.
ACCESS-Students may use the public address system, the school newspaper, and the school bulletin board to announce their meetings, on the same terms as other student groups. (This only applies to schools receiving federal funds.)
GRADUATION PRAYER-School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation ceremonies, nor organize baccalaureate services.
TEACHING-Schools may teach about religion, including the Bible or other scripture, the history of religion, the Bible-as-literature, and the role of religion in the United States and other countries.
EQUALITY Schools are to be neutral with respect to religion. However, they may play an active role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community.
OFF CAMPUS Schools may not allow religious instruction by outsiders on school premises during the school day. However, school officials may dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction.
SCHOOL OFFICIALS-School officials, as representatives of the state, may not solicit or encourage religious activity, nor participate in such activity with the students.
The First Amendment guarantees that individual Americans have the right to the free exercise of their religion. “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).” Public school children, being citizens of America, also have a right to the free exercise of their religion, They keep faith with the Lord when they practice their faith wherever they go including the public schools.