There was a ceremony on Monday that celebrated the graduating students of Shiloh Christian High School. It was heartwarming and a wonderful celebration, as the graduating class received their diplomas and embarked on their new journey to life outside a school setting.

I am extremely grateful to the staff and faculty who taught them, not only the basics required by state and federal law, but also the biblical principles that went along with a Christian world-life view. But what about all those graduates from public schools this year? Did they learn about any biblical issues and teachings, and if so, how would that have happened?

There are obvious limitations to what public school teachers can teach their students about faith issues, but I believe that teachers sometimes may not realize the latitude they actually have. Based on Supreme Court rulings and other legal precedent, all teachers, public and private, have the following rights.*

  1. Free expression: So long as a teacher presents both secular and religious aspects of a subject matter in an objective manner, the teacher may bring religion into any topic.
  2. Instruction related to religion as part of the curriculum: The Supreme Court recognized that the study of the Bible or religion when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education is consistent with the First Amendment. Teachers also have the ability, with some limitations, to discuss alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as intelligent design.
  3. Discussion of religious holidays in music, art, drama, and literature: If a public-school teacher displays or presents a secular aspect along with the religious holiday, then the symbol, music, art, drama, or literature should be constitutional. Done in an objective and educational manner, teachers can speak about religious holidays. Religious Christmas carols may be sung in public schools without offending the Constitution, so long as secular songs of the holiday are also sung.
  4. Discussion of religious beliefs and sharing one’s faith with other faculty and staff: Because teachers do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door, they have the right to discuss their religious beliefs with other faculty and staff members. where the overall context makes it clear that they are not participating in their official capacities (e.g., before school, during lunch).
  5. Wearing religious clothing or jewelry at school: If the school allows teachers to wear clothing with secular words or symbols or secular jewelry, then the school probably cannot prohibit a teacher from wearing clothing with religious words or jewelry with religious connotations.
  6. Sponsoring student religious clubs: Schools may require a sponsor of religious clubs, only if the same requirements are imposed on secular clubs. A teacher or other school employee as the agent of the school may be present at a religious meeting in a “non-participatory” capacity, as long as the club is appropriately student-initiated and student-led.
  7. Participating in after-school religious clubs and activities: Teachers may participate in after-school, religious-based, unofficial school-related activities
    *All federal and case law interpretation provided by Alliance Defending Freedom

So, there you have it. I do not know whether some of these surprised you, but as public-school teachers, the basic theme is that you can present Christian concepts as long as you present other points of view. You can even share your faith, in certain contexts. The final point to remember is that each school district has some latitude in how to interpret these rights.

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Mark Jorritsma
President and Executive Director