Do You Know the Constitutional Ways Schoolchildren Can Live Out Their Faith?
Religious freedom is the First Amendment principle enshrining the freedom to practice religion in teaching, worship and public life. However, the interpretation of this amendment is where battles are being fought. Your child’s classroom is one place that fight is playing out.
Religious freedom in our educational system has been under attack for years, often because of a misguided and incorrect interpretation of “separation of church and state”. Nevertheless, we have a Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom – even at school. Do any of these freedoms surprise you?
Public and Private Schools:
- Must allow students the opportunity to pray and hold devotions on school premises (e.g., “See You at the Pole” events)
- Are required to allow students to read their Bibles, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing students
- Must allow students to express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other assignments
- Are required to allow students to form religious clubs, including Bible clubs, if the school allows other noncurricular-related groups (applies to secondary public schools)
- May not infringe on a student’s right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities
- Can teach about religion in an academic and informational manner
- May use art, drama, music or literature with religious themes, if it serves a sound educational goal in the curriculum.
(Source: Religious Freedom Center – A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools)
Are you surprised? I was. While I don’t think these rights don’t go far enough, it is somewhat reassuring that religion is not entirely shut out of our educational institutions. If this is the case, why then do we need to continue fighting for religious freedom within school settings?
First, these freedoms are not applied consistently, including in North Dakota. This may be because school teachers and administrators are simply unaware of these rights and responsibilities, or perhaps they are personally opposed to them. For example, House Bill 1275 was introduced this past legislative session to simply allow students to pray before athletic events.
Second, teachers are not afforded the same freedoms as students to live out their faith. If we want to change our schools, we must look to the primary influencers of our children in the school setting – teachers. When they are constrained, the message of religious freedom is stifled.
Finally, there is the potential for these freedoms to be eroded. Freedoms that are not vigilantly protected tend to erode and become interpreted as mere privileges instead of Constitutional rights.
For all these reasons, Family Policy Alliance of North Dakota and its allies are on the front lines protecting and expanding these and other religious freedoms on the national and state level. Won’t you join us in this critical fight?
The freedoms we enjoy were won with the blood and wisdom of our Forefathers. Let’s honor these liberties and protect them!