More In Myers v. Loudoun County Public Schools (2005), the 4th U.S. This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged. The judges also noted that Yoder was concerned with the survival of an entire religious community – the Old Order Amish – rather than the impact of education on a single family. Lower courts consistently have followed the lead of Epperson and Edwards. First, the United States Supreme Court has been particularly mindful of the coercive risks associated with organized religious expression in the public schools. In Abington School District v. Schempp, the court ruled broadly that school sponsorship of religious exercises violates the Constitution. The court reasoned that once the school day ended, Wigg became a private citizen, leaving her free to be a Good News Club instructor at any school, including the one where she worked. Students' rights of free religious expression are not not necessarily automatic given. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld his firing in a 4-3 vote. Under these opt-out programs, parents do not have to explain their objection, religious or otherwise, to participation by their children. About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for a 2- 1 majority and citing Tinker, argued that students’ constitutional rights may be limited to prevent harming the rights of other students. Parents successfully cited religious grounds to win the right to remove their children from otherwise compulsory military training (Spence v. Bailey, 1972) and from a coeducational physical education class in which students had to dress in “immodest apparel” (Moody v. Cronin, 1979). Soon after the Everson decision, the Supreme Court began specifically applying the religion clauses to activities in public schools. The Supreme Court’s decisions about officially sponsored religious expression in schools consistently draw a distinction between religious activities such as worship or Bible reading, which are designed to inculcate religious sentiments and values, and “teaching about religion,” which is both constitutionally permissible and educationally appropriate. Not all the cases involving religion in the curriculum concern the promotion of the beliefs of the majority. “The First Amendment right of free speech and right to practice any faith, or no... © Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. The leading Supreme Court decision on freedom of student speech is Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969), , which upheld the right of students to wear armbands protesting the Vietnam War. Before state legislatures passed laws allowing home schooling, parents seeking to educate their children at home were often unsuccessful in the courts. Alito wrote that the court denied review in this case due to “important unresolved factual questions,” and that “the 9th Circuit’s understanding of free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”. Other courts, however, have invalidated school policies that permit student speakers to include religious sentiments in graduation addresses. June 2007 In 1985, a year after Congress passed the equal access law, school officials in Omaha, Nebraska, refused a student request for permission to form a Christian club at a public high school. For instance, when a student invokes gratitude to God in a valedictory address, or a high school football player offers a prayer in a huddle, is the school legally responsible for their religious expression? Under those circumstances, the appeals court ruled that the school was not responsible for the religious content of the address. Students could choose to insert religious messages into their speech, and schools must tread carefully to avoid unreasonably restricting student speech or religious expression. The schools also must be sensitive to the possibility that some students will feel coerced to participate in the program (Bauchman v. West High School, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a set of restrictions imposed by the University of Alabama on a professor of exercise physiology. The Supreme Court eventually may clarify school officials’ power to suppress speech as a means of protecting the rights of other students. Religious groups have cited those guarantees in support of student religious speech and in efforts to obtain school sponsorship and resources for student religious clubs. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Illinois High School Association was constitutionally obliged to accommodate Orthodox Jewish basketball players who wanted to wear a head covering, despite an association rule forbidding headgear. In 1968, the Court ruled in an 8-1 decision in the case of In re … Judges usually reach that same conclusion when school officials cooperate with students to produce student-delivered religious messages. 2 SPECIFIC ISSUES & QUESTIONS As a result, school boards have lost virtually every fight over curriculum changes designed to challenge evolution, including disclaimers in biology textbooks. 1615 L St. NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 USA Can students be compelled to participate in a Christmas-themed music program? It began with the landmark 1962 ruling, Engel v. Vitale, that school-sponsored prayer – even nonsectarian prayer – violated the Establishment Clause. Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World. On several occasions, members of the court have suggested that public schools may teach “the Bible as literature,” include lessons about the role of religion and relig… Freedom of Religious Expression in Public Schools. Similar conflicts erupted during the 1850s in Boston and other parts of New England. But while courts have given states some latitude in crafting moment of silence statutes, they have shown much less deference to laws or policies that involve actual prayer. The Supreme Court later extended Widmar’s notion of equal access to nonstudent groups. This analysis, updated on Oct. 3, 2019, was originally published in 2007 as part of a larger series that explored different aspects of the complex and fluid relationship between government and religion. Writing in dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski asserted that the school’s sexual harassment policy was far too vague and sweeping to support a restriction on all anti-gay speech. Public schools may not teach religion, although teaching about religion in a secular context is permitted. Newdow argued that the words “under God” violated the Establishment Clause because they transformed the pledge into a religious exercise. The 8-1 majority reasoned that high schools were indistinguishable from universities for purposes of equal access to public facilities. Similarly, in Bannon v. School District of Palm Beach County (2004), the 11th U.S. In one of these cases, the Supreme Court ruled against CLS, stating that these nondiscrimination policies were constitutional so long as they were viewpoint neutral and fairly applied to all groups seeking recognition on campus. Due process rights for teenagers. In later decisions, lower courts recognized religious opt-outs in other relatively narrow circumstances. After lengthy testimony from both proponents and opponents of intelligent design, a federal district court in Pennsylvania concluded that the policy violates the Establishment Clause because intelligent design is a religious, rather than scientific, theory. First, in the 1940 case of Minersville School District v. The legal issues surrounding student religious expression in the public schools rest on competing, if not inconsistent, theories. Opponents favor teaching some form of creationism, the idea that life came about as described in the biblical book of Genesis or evolved under the guidance of a supreme being. Instead, the 5-4 majority handed down a narrowly tailored decision that upheld the specific policy of Hastings Law School – the “all-comers” policy – as long as it is applied in an evenhanded manner. The most enduring and controversial issue related to school-sponsored religious activities is classroom prayer. 4. A case was brought by a 24-year-old French woman, who argued that the ban on wearing the veil in public violated her freedom of religion and expression. When they are acting as representatives of a public school system, however, courts have said their rights are constrained by the Establishment Clause. This, the courts determined, was true even during activities in which students or, as in this case… Frequently, judges have concluded that these courses are thinly disguised efforts to teach a particular understanding of the New Testament. For years the county had distributed fliers for children’s sports leagues and activities like the Boy Scouts. The court said the school’s policy against religious discrimination by student groups was unenforceable in this instance. By the time the Supreme Court agreed to hear Martinez, lower federal courts in different cases had ruled both for and against the organization. Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. She argued that the 6th Circuit’s ruling runs counter to the guidelines on religious expression in public schools issued in August by Secretary of Education Richard Riley. Many judges distinguished these home schooling cases from Yoder on the grounds that Yoder involved teenagers rather than young children. • Historically, Christian principles within the school system were deemed to be appropriate and acceptable. “A California school board is deciding to fight rather than flee by going to court to retain the right to pray before their meetings. The court ruled that school authorities may not suppress expression by students unless the expression significantly disrupts school discipline or invades the rights of others. As a condition for receiving federal financial aid, the law required that public secondary schools not discriminate on the basis of religion or political viewpoint in recognizing and supporting extracurricular activities. [1] What is the place of religious and cultural expression in public schools? But Harper graduated from high school, and the case took a different turn. Circuit Court of Appeals, 1997; Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District, 5th Circuit, 1995). In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), the court upheld the right of public school students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse to salute the American flag. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution contains two clauses that affect this issue: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The court ruled that no reasonable observer would perceive Wigg’s after-school role as being carried out on behalf of the school district, even though the club met on school property. In concurring opinions, however, four justices expressed the view that the Constitution permitted recitation of the pledge – with the phrase “under God” – in public schools. Some parents, teachers and school officials read that as barring any type of religious expression in a public school — but that is not what federal courts have said. Rather, the court emphasized what it saw as the wrongs of having the government create and sponsor a religious activity. The lower court previously ruled against the … Although the case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, involved just one law school (the University of California, Hastings College of Law), other law schools around the country also had been sued by the organization for similar reasons. Professor Phillip Bishop had been speaking regularly to his class about the role of his Christian beliefs in his work and had scheduled an optional class in which he offered a “Christian perspective” on human physiology. However, the Montgomery County curriculum included materials in teacher guides that disparaged some religious teachings on homosexuality as theologically flawed and contrasted those teachings with what the guide portrayed as the more acceptable and tolerant views of some other faiths. In Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland v. Montgomery County Public Schools (2006), for instance, a federal appellate court extended the equal access principle to fliers that schools distributed to students to take home for the purpose of informing parents about after-school activities. Those schools took the view that prayer and Bible reading in public schools were constitutionally impermissible, even if wholly student initiated. “As secular organizations continue to bully and threaten an increasing number of state, local and county institutions to do away with prayer by convincing them it is unconstitutional, there has been a spike in the number of school districts, city councils, and other government entities that are dropping the time-honored tradition.”, A California state bill its sponsors say will prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at private universities is threatening to expose faith-based schools to enormous legal threats, school officials warn…. The Amish community had a well-established record as hardworking and law-abiding, the court noted, and Amish teens would receive home-based training. In many cases, public school teachers and administrators would like to permit more religious expression in public schools if they only knew that the most recent Supreme Court cases allow it. The constitution both protects and prohibits many religious behaviors in public schools. By insisting that religious expression be excluded from the formal curriculum, the Supreme Court was assuring parents that public schools would be officially secular and would not compete with parents in their children’s religious upbringing. Tinker supported student expression, but it did not attempt to reconcile that right of expression with the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions forbidding student participation in school-sponsored prayer and Bible reading. Parents sometimes complain that secular practices at school inhibit their right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. Schools may neither favor nor disfavor students or groups on the basis of their religious identities. For a public school class to study the Bible without violating constitutional limits, the class would have to include critical rather than devotional readings and allow open inquiry into the history and content of biblical passages. The year before, in 1984, Congress had addressed this issue in the Equal Access Act, which required public schools to allow religious and political clubs if they let students form other kinds of student-interest clubs. Federal courts, they point out, consistently have interpreted the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion to forbid state sponsorship of prayer and most other religious activities in public schools. In a now-lengthy line of decisions, the Supreme Court has ruled consistently that religious groups represent a particular viewpoint on the subjects they address and that officials may not exclude that viewpoint from a government-created forum for expression or association. October 2008 Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Florida school officials were right to order the removal of student-created religious messages and symbols from a school beautification project. But at least one conservative constituency largely is still waiting for its day in the high court. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) Board of Education v. Pico (1982) Bethel School District No. Student groups that are officially recognized by Hastings enjoy certain privileges, including access to school facilities and funding. The first decision by the Supreme Court on parents’ rights to control their children’s education came in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), which guarantees to parents the right to enroll their children in private rather than public schools, whether the private schools are religious or secular. The case is similar to an Ohio legal battle that took place in 2012. The court said the law’s purpose was to single out a particular religious belief – in this case, biblical creationism – and promote it as an alternative to accepted scientific theory. Therefore, schools must allow students the option not to participate. Conflicts over religion in school are hardly new. He also argued that the school district had unlawfully discriminated against Harper’s freedom of speech. Free Exercise and the Legislative and Executive Branches (The new Pew Research Center survey finds that one-in-ten religiously affiliated teens in public school leave the school for religious activities. The Legal Status of Religious Organizations in Civil Lawsuits The two clauses say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Before those two court decisions, courts had applied the religion clauses only to actions of the federal government. The most famous of the cases is Mozert v. Hawkins County Board of Education (1987), in which a group of Tennessee parents complained that references to mental telepathy, evolution, secular humanism, feminism, pacifism and magic in a series of books in the reading curriculum offended the families’ Christian beliefs. Although the Supreme Court has occasionally referred to the permissibility of teaching the Bible as literature, some school districts have instituted Bible study programs that courts have found unconstitutional. In Good News Club, a 6-3 majority held that the Free Speech Clause prohibited an elementary school from excluding an evangelical Christian program for children from the list of accepted after-school activities. The court emphasized that school principals need such authority to prevent potential violations of the Establishment Clause and to protect students against a religiously coercive atmosphere. Moreover, the courts have said, no student should be forced to sing or play music that offends their religious sensibilities. In its first such case, McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the high court invalidated the practice of having religious instructors from different denominations enter public schools to offer religious lessons during the school day to students whose parents requested them. That much is clear. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding a Pennsylvania school district’s policy to accommodate transgender students. On several occasions, members of the court have suggested that public schools may teach “the Bible as literature,” include lessons about the role of religion and religious institutions in history or offer courses on comparative religion. Some parents and students argue that the new arrangements violate their religious liberty rights because the school policy forces them to accommodate a set of moral and religious beliefs they disagree with. (The new survey finds that 8% of teens in public school have ever seen a teacher lead the class in prayer, and the same share have ever had a teacher read to the class from the Bible as an example of literature.). Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the county’s favor on the grounds that students were not being asked to do anything in conflict with their religious obligations. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Kitzmiller may have been the last major evolution case to make national headlines, but the debate over how to teach about the origins and development of life in public schools has continued in state legislatures, boards of education and other public bodies. In one case, for example, a federal appeals court approved a high school’s decision to prohibit a student from wearing a T-shirt containing a biblical passage condemning homosexuality. A New York teacher recently had a case heard in Second Circuit Court of Appeals court concerning the display of religious items in her classroom. For example, can a class on the Bible as literature be taught without a bias for or against the idea that the Bible is religious truth? The Establishment Clause prohibits the federal government, or any state, from passing laws that establish an official religion; or any action that appears as preferring one religion over another. Prayer and Bible-reading have long been excluded from the public schools. And the results have made the rules for religious expression far more complex. In that case, Mellen v. Bunting (2003), the appellate court reasoned that VMI’s military-like environment tended to coerce participation by cadets. March 2011 But federal courts are more divided in cases involving students acting on their own to include a religious sentiment or prayer at a school commencement or a similar activity. A key factor in the court’s decision was that the lessons took place in the schools. Quite the contrary, she wrote, the policy is completely neutral since it requires all organizations to open their membership and leadership to all students. Furthermore, the court said, the school board had a strong interest in exposing children to a variety of ideas and images and in using a uniform series of books for all children. 1 The Bible may be taught in a school, but only for its historical, cultural or literary value and never in a devotional, celebratory or doctrinal manner, or in such a way that encourages acceptance of the Bible as a religious document. The following year, the high court extended the principle outlined in Engel to a program of daily Bible reading. For example, the Christian Legal Society (CLS), which has chapters in many law schools, requires those who serve in leadership positions to agree to a statement that renounces “unbiblical behaviors,” such as engaging in sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. For instance, about four-in-ten public school students say they routinely see other students praying before sporting events, according to the survey. Most recently, in 2019, the Supreme Court declined to review a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the firing of a football coach at a public high school for praying on the field with his players after games. The case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, reached the Supreme Court in 2004, but the justices did not ultimately decide whether the phrase was acceptable. In banning the prayer exercise entirely, the court did not rest its opinion on the grounds that unwilling students were coerced to pray; that would come much later. The school board originally allowed children to choose alternative reading materials but then eliminated that option. School speech. This trend is increasing nationwide. When a teacher who works for the state speaks to a class, the teacher represents the school and the school … Current legally protected rights of religious expression: • Government, laws and public policies, like many things within society, do reflect a clear value system. During the Clinton Administration, the Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, issued a “statement of principles” that outlined permissible religious expression in public schools. Circuit Court of Appeals nevertheless ruled that the high school could not permit religious content in the commencement speech. Student Religious Expression: Individual student expression may not be suppressed simply because it is religious. The Menora case involves a narrow exception from the dress code, rather than a broader right to opt out of a curriculum requirement. The first major decision in this area was Widmar v. Vincent (1981), , in which the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Missouri could not exclude from campus facilities a student group that wanted to use the school’s buildings for worship and Bible study. Speech by students in public secondary schools (for cases involving teachers' free-speech rights, see Public employees, below). In Adler v. Duval County School Board (1996), for example, the 11th U.S. • Not “religion-free zones:” “The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment prevent the government from making any law respecting the establishment of religion … He concluded that the T-shirt could be seen as violating school policies against harassment based on sexual orientation. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. The presence of student religious groups in public schools has raised one additional issue. This endorsement of students’ freedom of speech did not entirely clarify things for school officials trying to determine students’ rights. For example, the Division filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of a group of Massachusetts high school students who were suspended for handing out candy canes to other students with religious messages attached. Indeed, challenges have come from Christian groups arguing that school policies discriminate against Christianity by promoting cultural pluralism. When off duty, school employees are free to engage in worship, proselytizing or any other lawful faith-based activity. The dissenters argued, unsuccessfully, that state financial support for a proselytizing journal violated the Establishment Clause. The legal issues surrounding student religious expression in the public schools rest on competing, if not inconsistent, theories. For the court, the key element was the service academies’ coercion of students to attend the religious activity. Voluntary student religious expression at a public school is constitutionally protected under both the Free Speech and the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. In Bishop v. Aronov (1991), for example, the 11th U.S. Students may offer a prayer or blessing before meals in school or assemble on school grounds for religious purposes to the same extent as other students who wish to express their personal views or assemble with others. These organizations have consistently succeeded in securing the same privileges provided by public schools to secular groups. At least one court of appeals has upheld that argument. Are legal disputes involving churches and other religious institutions constitutionally different from those involving their secular counterparts, and if so, how? That was the key question in Wigg v. Sioux Falls School District (8th U.S. These guidelines, addressing the extent to which religious expression and activity are permitted in public schools, were originally issued in 1995. More recently, parents and students have, on religious liberty and other grounds, sued school districts that accommodate transgender students by allowing them to use bathroom and locker facilities that match their current gender identity rather than their sex at birth. Writing for the high court’s majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that Hastings’ policy requiring officially registered student groups to allow anyone to join does not unconstitutionally discriminate against groups with particular viewpoints or missions. Sign up to receive the latest news & prayer alerts from CPCF. (The new survey finds that 26% of religiously affiliated teens in public school say they often or sometimes pray before eating lunch.). The case was widely viewed as a contest between the right of free association and nondiscrimination policies. In 2019, for instance, policies that could affect the way evolution is taught in public school (often by limiting discussion of “controversial issues”) were introduced and in some cases debated in several states, including Arizona, Florida, Maine, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia. Circuit Court of Appeals, 2004), in which a teacher sued the South Dakota school district for refusing to allow her to serve as an instructor in the Good News Club (an evangelical Christian group) that met after school hours at various public elementary schools in the district. • Freedom of expression in public schools is legally defendable and worthy of the effort to fight discrimination. However, in a statement accompanying the denial of review, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. (joined by fellow conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh) indicated the high court would be open to reviewing other cases involving similar issues. This report was written by Ira C. Lupu, F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis  Professor Emeritus of Law at George Washington University Law School; David Masci, Senior Writer/Editor at Pew Research Center; and Robert W. Tuttle, David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law & Religion at George Washington University Law School. The university had refused the group access, asserting that the Establishment Clause forbade the use of a public university’s facilities for worship. In that case, a public school science teacher refused to remove religious signs and a Bible from his classroom. The disputes then were over which Bible and which prayers were appropriate to use in the classroom. Without question, public school employees retain their rights to free exercise of religion. 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