Teachers and Students
Maintain Religious Freedom in Schools
An important distinction exists between government speech (speech of the school district) and private speech. Although the Establishment Clause can sometimes limit government employee speech, the Constitution fully pro- tects students’ private religious expression.
The Supreme Court clearly states that both students and teachers maintain their First Amendment rights (including freedoms of religion and speech) in schools.
“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” (Tinker v. Des Moines)
Teachers and Administrators Must Be Neutral to Religion
A public school cannot endorse a particular religion or coerce students to participate in religious activity. Conversely, public school may not oppose or be hostile to religion.
Teachers and administrators represent the school in classrooms and school-sponsored events, therefore public school employees must remain neutral at those times: neither favoring religion over non-religion nor favoring non-religion over religion.
◦ If schools allow non-religious groups (ex: Scouts) use of facilities, they cannot deny religious groups equal access.
◦ If parents are allowed to converse on campus, they are allowed to pray.
What, When, and Where Can Teachers Express Their Religious Beliefs?
Teachers can express their religious beliefs if:
The expression is unrelated to the scope of their official duties and professional capacity.
It is generally not in the presence of students during instructional time.
It does not impede the teacher’s performance or operation of the school.
It does not communicate a school’s endorsement of religion.
During Instructional Time
Teachers must remain neutral about religion.
Religion can be discussed as part of the historical and cultural aspects of a secular education.
Teachers may discuss religion with students during school hours if the student starts the conversation.
Outside of School or School Functions
• You are free to discuss religion with anyone, including students, for any reason.
During Free Time
• Before and after school, during lunch, etc. you can meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent you are allowed to engage in any other conversation or non-religious activity.
Participation in Religious Clubs
• In most states, school employees may attend student-led religious meet- ings in a non-participatory role (ie: a supervisory role).
• If a school district does not allow teachers to attend any non-curricular clubs, they may not attend Bible club either.
• Some states allow teachers to fully participate in religious clubs.
• Teachers are allowed to participate in a baccalaureate service when the service is not an official school event and teachers are free to speak and act as they wish when they are outside of school and school functions.
Christmas Celebrations Are Allowed
A public school can have religious art, drama, and music or celebrate Christmas as long as it is presented objectively (not part of a religious exercise or used to advance a particular religion) and is used to teach his- tory or cultural heritage.
Schools Obligation to Respect Teachers’ Religious Views
• Schools may not discriminate against teachers based on the teacher’s religion or religious views.
• Unless it would cause undue hardship, schools can’t penalize a teacher because of religious beliefs, as long as:
• the teacher actually holds a sincere religious belief which is in con- flict with an employment requirement and
• the teacher informed the employer about the conflict prior to the adverse action.
• Schools must protect teachers from what an objective person would consider harassment due to their religious beliefs.
Students’ Religious Rights
Prayer in School
• Students may pray alone or with other students during recess, lunch, or other non-instruction- al time as long as it is not substantially disruptive.
• Students may pray during a school’s moment of silence and teachers may not discourage prayer.
Prayer and Religious Speech in Athletics, and at Extracurricular Events and Assemblies
• Students may pray individually or as a group as long as school officials are not involved.
• Students may lead pre-activity prayer if:
• the school allows pre-activity speech,
• the school does not control the content of the speech (even though the school may review the speech for vulgarity, lewdness, etc.), and
• it is clear that the speech is the student’s and not the school’s.
Prayer and Religious Speech at Graduation
Students may include religious content and prayer in graduation speeches if:
• they are selected by neutral criteria (for example, by grades); and
• control over the content is left to the students, not the school.
Bible Reading and Sharing
Students have the right to:
• read their Bibles or other religious materials during free reading time or other non-in- structional time (recess, lunch, etc.)
• give Bibles or religious materials to other students to the same extent a student could give away any non-religious book or materials.
Faith in Classwork
Students can discuss their faith in classroom and homework assignments so long as:
it relates to the topic;
it is the student’s own work;
it follows assignment directions; and
it is not related to a school-sponsored publication (ex: school newspapers, theatrical productions, or other activities that appear to be the speech of the school itself).
Religious Gift Giving
If a student may give a non-religious gift to another student then a student may give a reli- gious gift to the same extent.
Student Led Religious Groups and Clubs
Religious groups must be afforded the same rights as other non-curricular groups, including rights to make announcements, post on bulletin boards, and use rooms.
See more on Teachers Bill of Rights Here
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.