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Christian Rights in Public Education


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Title: Christian Rights in Public Education

Christian Rights in Public Education
EDUC 741 Summer, 2008 Dr. Schneider
  • Group 2 Nathan Buhl, Cory Dickerson,
  • Brianne Kilbourne, Theresa Roberts

First Amendment Rights
  • Congress shall make no law respecting an
    establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
    free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom
    of speech, or of the press or the right of the
    people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
    Government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment Rights
  • Although some legal barriers exist, teachers and
    students do have opportunities to express their
    Christian beliefs.
  • "First Amendment rights, applied in light of the
    special characteristics of the school
    environment, are available to teachers and
    students. It can hardly be argued that either
    students or teachers shed their constitutional
    rights to speech or expression at the schoolhouse
  • Justice Abe Fortas

Regarding religion, the 1st Amendment was
intended to accomplish three purposes
  • Intended to prevent the establishment of a
    national church or religion, or the giving of any
    religious sect or denomination a preferred status
  • Designed to safeguard the right of freedom of
    conscience in religious beliefs against invasion
    solely by the national Government
  • Constructed in order to allow the States,
    unimpeded, to deal with religious establishments
    and aid to religious institutions as they saw fit
  • Robert L. Cord

First Amendment Rights
  • The founding fathers did not include the 1st
    Amendment in the Constitution to disallow
    Christianity from influencing state-established
  • America's founding fathers expected our nation to
    be (on the whole) Christian, and our government
    to reflect that bias.
  • Side Note
  • The first act of the United States Congress was
    to authorize the printing of 20,000 Bibles for
    the Indians.

  • Consider the following quotes found on various
    sites on the web

  • Author Tim LaHaye says that...
  • "This Christian consensus is easily verified by
    the fact that prior to 1789 (the year that eleven
    of the thirteen states ratified the
    Constitution), many of the states still had
    constitutional requirements that a man must be a
    Christian in order to hold public office."

  • Public schools should not be in the business of
    preaching to students or trying to persuade them
    to adopt certain religious beliefs. Parents, not
    school officials, are responsible for overseeing
    a young person's religious upbringing. This is
    not a controversial principle. In fact, most
    parents would demand the basic rights.
  • - Americans United for the Separation of Church

  • Being neutral on religion is not the same as
    being hostile toward it. In a multi-faith,
    religiously diverse society such as ours,
    neutrality is the appropriate stance for the
    government to take toward religion. Under this
    principle, public schools can allow for
    individual student religious expression without
    endorsing or promoting any specific faith.
  • - Americans United for the Separation of Church

Landmark Decisions
  • 1948 McCollum v. Board of Education - U.S.
    Supreme Court struck down religious instruction
    in public schools.
  • 1954 Tudor v.  Board of Education - Supreme
    Court let stand a lower court ruling against the
    distribution of Bibles by outside groups like the
  • 1954 also - Congress revised the Pledge of
    Allegiance to refer to the nation as under God,
    a phrase that has since been recited by
    generations of schoolchildren.
  • 1960 Madalyn Murray O'Hair sued the Baltimore,
    MD school system on behalf of her son, William J
    Murray, because he was being forced to
    participate in prayer in schools.

Landmark Decisions
  • 1962 Engel v. Vitale - The Supreme Court
    disallowed a government-composed,
    nondenominational Regents prayer which was
    recited by students.
  • 1963 Murray v. Curlett Abington Township School
    district v. Schempp - In a number of major
    decisions, mandatory Bible verse recitation was
    ruled unconstitutional.
  • 1989 Jager v. Douglas Country School District,
    the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals let stand a
    lower ruling which found that pre-game
    invocations by coaches, officials or students at
    high school football games were unconstitutional.

Landmark Decisions
  • 1995 Doe v. Duncanville Independent School
    District - The U.S. Texas Court of Appeals for
    the 5th circuit found that informal
    student-initiated, student led prayers at
    sporting events were constitutional. They found
    that students "are not enjoined from praying,
    either individually or in groups. Students may
    voluntarily pray together, provided such prayer
    is not done with school participation or
    supervision." The implication of this ruling is
    that it would be unconstitutional for the school
    administration to include a formal prayer in the
    game schedule.

An illustration of Neutrality and Postmodernism
in Public Education
  • Kentucky education officials neutralize Christ
  • The Kentucky Board of Education came
    under fire for approving a more contemporary
    system of describing historical dates in its
    public school curriculum. One critic said he
    believed modernizing the system reveals a desire
    to conceal from students their cultures
    Judeo-Christian heritage.
  • The state board of education voted to
    continue using the abbreviations B.C. for Before
    Christ and A.D. for Anno Domini, which is
    Latin for in the Year of the Lord. However, the
    board members decided to supplement the
    traditional dating method with a more secular
    approach C.E. for Common Era, and B.C.E.,
    which stands for Before the Common Era.
    Presumably, the new designations will be
    B.C./B.C.E. and A.D./C.E.
  • The boards vote meant that the new
    dating system will appear throughout Kentuckys
    curriculum as well as the other materials used by
    educators across the state. This method of
    describing historical eras is already being
    included in textbooks across the United States,
    especially on the college and university level.
  • http//

Rights of Christian Teachers and School
  • Since teachers are not only private citizens, but
    also agents of the state, courts have held that
    the rights of teachers in public schools are not
    automatically equal with the rights of adults in
    other settings.
  • Therefore the rights of teachers and other school
    officials to share their Christian faith is much
    more restricted than the rights of students. A
    teacher must remain totally impartial about
    religious matters.
  • http//
  • http//
  • http//

What are Educators Not Able to Do?
  • Teachers may not do the following
  • Read the Bible or tell Bible stories in the
    classroom apart from teaching about religion as
    part of an academic curriculum
  • Conduct devotional exercises
  • Pray in the classroom or during extra-curricular
    events, such as sports games
  • Witness to students in any way while on school
  • Subjectively discuss their own faith with
    students in the classroom, but they may
    objectively answer student questions about what
    various religions believe
  • Read their Bibles or other religious texts, pray,
    or otherwise when in the presence of students
  • http//
  • http//
  • http//

What are Educators Allowed to Do?
  • Teachers may do the following
  • Permit a moment of quiet reflection, meditation,
    or prayer at the beginning of the school day.
  • Teach values and moral codes in a
    religiously-neutral way in the classroom even if
    the values and moral codes are those practiced by
    various religious groups.
  • Arrange to meet students outside school hours to
    witness to students who are asking questions
    about spiritual matters.
  • Meet with the student leaders of Bible clubs off
    campus in order to assist them and train them to
    lead other students.
  • Know their students rights and protect them.
  • Teachers should generally be free to wear
    clothing, jewelry, etc. indicating their
    adherence to a religious faith, so long as the
    garb is not proselytizing or disruptive.
  • http//
  • http//
  • http//

Prayer in school
  • Public school officials cannot be involved in the
    delivery of a prayer. To do so would be a
    violation of the principle of separation of
    church and state.

Can a school start the day with an activity or
  • No - 1st Amendment prohibits government from
    promoting religion.
  • Even if public school students are given the
    option of meditating during a moment of silence
    intended for prayer, requiring such a moment
    during the school day violates the Constitution
  • Can have a moment of silence if indications are
    not made that it is intended for prayer
  • Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985

Prayer at school games?
  • Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe
    (2000) - U.S. Supreme Court decision decided that
    public schools cannot constitutionally organize
    school prayers at games and similar regular
  • Santa Fe Independent School District
  • The school organizes sporting events, and
    reserves a time-slot before the game begins for a
    student to make a statement. This has always been
    in the form of a religious invocation -- an
    historical tradition in Texas. 

Prayer at school games?
  • An individual student player or sports fan can
    engage in prayer by themselves at school games. 
  • A number of students, on their own, can decide to
    group together and engage in prayer.
  • School officials may not add a prayer of their
    choosing to the game's program. 
  • School officials may not include a time slot
    during the game for a student to lead others in a
    prayer, even if the prayer was chosen by the

Prayer in the classroom?
Prayer in the classroom?
  • Student-initiated prayer is allowed in various
    situations and locations in the
  • public school system.
  • In school busses
  • At the flag-pole
  • In after-hours student religious clubs
  • In the school hallways
  • In the cafeteria
  • In the classroom before or after scheduled classes

Prayer in the classroom?
  • Not only are these permitted, they are actually
    protected forms of speech under the U.S.
    Constitution. Students are guaranteed the right
    to pray, as long as it is not disruptive, and as
    long as it is not during classroom hours.
  • Prayer is not normally permitted as a scheduled
    part of classroom activities.
  • An exception may be permitted if, during the
    school year, a mixture of prayers, statements,
    etc are delivered, using material derived from a
    number of different religions and secular

Prayer at graduation ceremonies?
  • Some courts have ruled that prayer at graduation
    ceremonies deserves special treatment, because
    they are one-shot events -- a student only
    experiences it once. Thus, the linkage of church
    and state would not be repeated as it would be if
    prayers were given at the beginning of each
    school day in a classroom. 
  • Lee v. Weisman - (1992) - Even nonsectarian
    prayer at a public school graduation is
    unconstitutional. It violates the constitutional
    prohibition on establishment of religion because
    it involves the government (acting through the
    public school) in a religious activity.

200 graduates include God in ceremony
  • A Kentucky school superintendent says hes proud
    of the Russell County High School students who
    recited the Lords Prayer at their graduation
    ceremony in May.
  • Earlier in the day, a federal judge had banned
    prayers from the ceremony in response to a
    lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties
    Union (ACLU) on behalf of a male student at the
  • The student did not feel that he should have to
    sit through government-sponsored prayer just to
    receive his diploma, an ACLU attorney explained.
  • But during the principals opening graduation
    ceremony remarks, about 200 students prayed
    aloud, drawing thunderous applause and a standing
    ovation from the crowd.
  • http//

Can a public school teach religion?
  • In Abington v.Schempp, Associate Justice Tom
    Clark wrote for the Court
  • It might well be said that ones education
    is not complete without a study of comparative
    religion or the history of religion and its
    relationship to the advancement of civilization.
    It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy
    of study for its literary and historic qualities.
    Nothing we have said here indicates that such
    study of the Bible or of religion, when
    presented objectively as part of a secular
    program of education, may not be effected
    consistently with the First Amendment.
  • A teachers guide to religion in public schools

Can a public school teach religion?
  • A public school, as part of the curriculum,
    cannot promote religious beliefs or practices.
  • A public school can, however, teach about the
    influences of religion in history or literature.
  • Some states have implemented a religion class as
    an elective.

What about religious holidays?
  • The study of religious holidays may be included
    in elementary and secondary curricula as
    opportunities for teaching about religions.
  • Teachers must be alert to the distinction between
    teaching about religious holidays, which is
    permissible, and celebrating religious holidays,
    which is not.
  • Recognition of and information about holidays may
    focus on how and when they are celebrated, their
    origins, histories and generally agreed-upon

What about Christmas?
  • Acceptable as long as Christmas is not taught as
    truly the Son of Gods birthday
  • Totally permissible for teachers to state,
    however, that Christians celebrate Christmas as
    the birthday of Jesus, whom they believe to be
    the Son of God
  • Perfectly acceptable to use religious symbols,
    such as nativity scenes, as an aid or resource in
    teaching about religious holidays, but the
    religious symbols must be used only as examples
    of religious or cultural heritage
  • Use of religious music, art, or literature in
    school Christmas performances that present a
    variety of selections is appropriate
  • http//
  • http//

Can students read the Bible on their own as well
as share the Bible with others while in school?
Consider the following case in Knoxville,
Bible reading banned during school recess
  • Luke Whitson, a 10-year-old student at Karns
    Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee, is at
    the center of a constitutional squabble over the
    right to read his Bible during regularly
    scheduled recess.
  • In May the schools principal reportedly told the
    boy and his friends to quit reading, put away
    their Bibles, and stop bringing them to school.
    The principals instructions, which were in
    response to a parental complaint, put him at odds
    with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
  • "A school official cannot tell a student that he
    cant bring his Bible to school or study it with
    friends during non-classroom time," said Charles
    Pope, an ADF-allied attorney who wrote a letter
    addressing the situation to Knox County School
    District officials. "The Constitution does not
    prohibit Bibles during recess it prohibits the
    wholesale banning of Bibles during recess."
  • "Children have rights of speech and association
    during their non-instructional time, and the
    school may not curtail those rights because of
    their age," added ADF Senior Counsel Joseph
  • "The school district should immediately issue a
    statement addressing the unconstitutional actions
    and policy and alerting all personnel to permit
    Luke and other similarly situated students to
    exercise their constitutional rights," Pope
  • http//

Student Rights
  • Distributing literature on campus may not be
    restricted simply because it is religious.
  • Students may hand out tracts, flyers or other
    religious materials on campus. Religious club
    members may use the school bulletin board to
    advertise their clubs just as other clubs do.
  • - The Students Bill of Rights

Does a student have a right to express his/her
opinions or beliefs in school?
  • Yes, as long as classes or school activities are
    not disrupted and no vulgar language is used the
    student can expresses his/her opinion or beliefs
    whether symbolically, verbally or in written form.

May students wear a Christian or pro-life
message on their clothing?
  • Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School
    District December 1965, a group of adults
    and students including students John F. Tinker
    (15), Christopher Eckhardt (16) , and Mary Beth
    Tinker (13) held a meeting at the Eckhardt home.
  • The group decided to show their objections to
    the hostilities in Vietnam and their support for
    a truce by wearing black armbands during the
    holiday season and by fasting on December 16 and
    New Year's Eve.
  • The principals of the Des Moines schools where
    the children attended became aware of the plan to
    wear armbands.
  • On December 14, 1965 the school met and adopted
    a policy that any student wearing an armband to
    school would be asked to remove it, and if he/she
    refused , would be suspended until he/she
    returned without the armband. The entire school
    was aware of the regulation that the school
    authorities adopted.
  • On December 16, Mary Beth and Christopher wore
    black armbands to their schools. John Tinker wore
    his armband the next day. They were all sent home
    and suspended from school until they would come
    back without their armbands. They did not return
    to school until after the planned period for
    wearing armbands had expired--that is, until
    after New Year's Day.
  • http//

May students wear a Christian or pro-life
message on their clothing?
  • The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed
    by an equally divided court Held
  • 1. In wearing armbands, the petitioners were
    quiet and passive. They were not disruptive and
    did not impinge upon the rights of others. In
    these circumstances, their conduct was within the
    protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First
  • 2. First Amendment rights are available to
    teachers and students, subject to application in
    light of the special characteristics of the
    school environment.
  • 3. A prohibition against expression of opinion,
    without any evidence that the rule is necessary
    to avoid substantial interference with school
    discipline or the rights of others, is not
    permissible under the First and Fourteenth
  • This case has been used to protect teachers as in
    James v. Board of Education. A federal court held
    that a high school teacher had a First Amendment
    right to wear a black armband in the classroom to
    protest the Vietnam War. The Court held that the
    teachers armband passed the two-part test in
    Tinker and did not interfere with the teachers
    classroom duties. The teacher was not coercive
    and did not arbitrarily inculcate doctrinaire
    views in the minds of students. Since the high
    school students were able to distinguish between
    a teachers personal views and those that were
    the official position of the school board.
  • http//

Does a student have a right to express his/her
opinions/beliefs in school through publication?
  • Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
  • January 13, 1988 A faculty sponsor of the
    Hazelwood East High School school-sponsored
    student newspaper in suburban St. Louis, Mo.,
    censors stories written by students concerning
    teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce on
    children. The articles in which students
    discussed their sexual history and use of birth
    control in non-graphic manner where for student
    newspaper distributed to 14-year old freshman .

Does a student have a right to express his/her
opinions/beliefs in school through publication?
  • In a 5-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed
    the decision of the United States Court of
    Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis,
    which had upheld the rights of the students.
  • The majority opinion of the Supreme Court said
    that the rights of public school students are not
    necessarily the same as those of adults in other
    settings since the newspaper at Hazelwood East
    High School was not a "forum for public
    expression" by students.
  • Therefore, the censored students were not
    entitled to broad First Amendment protection.
  • Due to this the Court held that the school was
    not required to follow the standard established
    in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community
    School District
  • http//

So What Does This Mean?
  • If a school can present a reasonable educational
    justification for its censorship, that censorship
    will be allowed.
  • If a publication is not an public forum (when
    either through policy or practice opened a
    publication for unrestricted use by students)
  • It only applies to school-sponsored student
    publications that are not public forums
  • Is it supervised by a faculty member?
  • Is a school official the final word on all
    aspects of publication?
  • Is it for class credit?
  • Does the publication use the school's name or
  • http//

May students be permitted to establish a
student-run Bible club?
  • The Equal Access Act was signed into law in 1984.
  • The law applies to
  • only public secondary schools.
  • Schools who already have "a limited open forum"
    which means they have at least one student-led,
    non-curriculum club that meets outside of class
  • All or None
  • Any schools meeting the above criteria must allow
    additional clubs to be organized, as long as
  • Attendance is voluntary.
  • The group is student-initiated.
  • The group is not sponsored by the school itself,
    by teachers, by other school employees, or by the
    government. (employees cannot promote, lead or
    participate in a meeting but can have an employee
    assigned to a group for supervision purposes)
  • People from the community may not "direct,
    conduct, control, or regularly attend activities
    of student groups."
  • The group is not disruptive
  • The school is required to treat all of its
    student-led non-curriculum clubs equally.
  • http//

On a personal note.
  • The Student reading the Bible and sharing the
    Gospel with others during school
  • In a span of a week
  • Students complained of his talking about Jesus
  • Parents called in and expressed their concern
  • Teachers noted that it was beginning to disrupt

The issue
  • First Amendment rights include the right to
    distribute Gospel tracts or other religious
    literature during non-instructional times.
  • The standard that must be applied is Does the
    activity materially or substantially disrupt
    school discipline?
  • - Christian Law Associations Rights in Public

Another Story
  • During the 2007/2008 school year, an 8th grade
    student met with me to discuss why there were no
    books on lesbianism or homosexuality in the Media

The Pico Case
  • The Parents of New York, a conservative group
    brought to the Island Trees School Board of
    Education a list of questionable books that
    included profanity and inappropriate sexual
  • The board of education followed its policy in
    establishing a committee established by the
    superintendent but during the process they had
    the books unofficially removed from the library
    and made a statement to the media saying, it is
    our duty, our moral obligation, to protect the
    students in our schools from this moral danger.
  • This eventually made it to the Supreme Court
    where on 5-4 ruling supported the students.

  • Since Pico, First Amendment litigation involving
    book censorship in schools has usually turned on
    the rights of a school board to control classroom
    curricula by prohibiting the use of certain texts
    and/or an inquiry into whether a certain
    challenged text is vulgar.
  • Claire Mullally, Contributing Writer for The
    First Amendment Center www.firstamendmentcenter.or

Declaration from the Christian Educators
Association International
  • Whereas, we as Christians recognize our biblical
    duty to teach our children and as citizens of
    the United States recognize today that mothers
    and fathers desire a hope and a future for their
  • Whereas, public schools were founded as one of
    the means of educating future generations to be
    capable of assuming their responsibilities as
    citizens, discover truth and develop moral
  • Whereas, the churches and all people of faith
    have an opportunity to assist local schools and
    communities to secure a safe learning
    environment, academic excellence, meaningful
    parental involvement, and community
  • Whereas, Christian churches need not only to
    provide for the spiritual well-being of children,
    parents and educators within their congregation,
    but also need to see their involvement in local
    public schools as part of the churches' vision

Declaration from the Christian Educators
Association International
  • Be it resolved, as followers of Jesus Christ, we
    accept the responsibility to love all children as
    we love ourselves, and to pray for children,
    educators and public schools
  • Be it resolved, that we recognize and accept our
    opportunity as Christians and citizens to build
    constructive relationships with local public
    schools, to pursue avenues of support for those
    involved in public education and to encourage and
    disciple public school teachers, administrators,
    and students
  • Be it further resolved, this emphasis on public
    education is not intended to compromise the value
    nor question the validity of private, Christian,
    or home schools.

The Great CommissionMark 1615
Domestic Missionaries Liberty Counsel Urges
Public School Teachers to Use Class Time as
Christian Missionaries
  • Mathew Staver (Founder Chairman of Liberty
    Counsel) stated that teachers and public school
    administrators are essentially domestic
    missionaries and that since teachers spend more
    time with children than pastors or even their
    parents, Christian teachers have a tremendous
    opportunity to reach children.
  • Staver urged teachers not to simply pray
    privately before or after school, but to seek to
    impart their Christian views to their students
    and take advantage of their position because
    Christian educators really have a missionary
    opportunity in the public schools.

Domestic Missionaries Liberty Counsel Urges
Public School Teachers to Use Class Time as
Christian Missionaries
  • The key to the future is through the minds and
    hearts and souls of our youth. If you want to
    change our culture, the best, quickest, easiest
    way to do that is through the minds and souls and
    hearts of youth teachers, administrators all
    over the country have a tremendous, unparalleled
    opportunity to be able to take the good news to
    the public school. Whether its talking about
    religion and giving a great background about our
    great religious heritage, whatever topic youre
    talking about, or whether its actually
    evangelization immediately after school in the
    public school. Theres a great opportunity
    waiting for you.  Mathew Staver

Proverbs 2410
  • If you faint in the day of adversity, your
    strength is small. - NIV

Philippians 413
  • I can do all things through Him who gives me
    strength. -NIV

Daniel 63
  • Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the
    administrators and the satraps by his exceptional
    qualities that the king planned to set him over
    the whole kingdom. - NIV

Daniel 1 17, 18
  • To these four young men God Gave Knowledge and
    understanding of all kinds of literature and
    learning In every matter of wisdom and
    understanding about the king questioned them, he
    found them ten times better than all the
    magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. -

Matthew 625-27,30
  • Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your
    life, what you will eat or drink or about your
    body, what you will wear. Is not life more
    important than food, and the body more important
    than clothes? Look at the birds of the air they
    do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and
    yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not
    much more valuable than they? Who of you by
    worrying can add a single hour to his life?
    If that is how God clothes the grass of the
    field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown
    into the fire, will he not much more clothe you,
    O you of little faith? - NIV

  • Americans United for the Separation of Church and
    State. Retrieved on July 1, 2008 from
  • Bible Reading Banned During School Recess.
    Retrieved on July 1, 2008 from
  • Christian Educators Association International.
    Retrieved June 30, 2008 from
  • Christian Law Associations Rights in Public
    Schools. Retrieved on July 1, 2008 from
  • Kentucky Education Officials Neutralize Christ.
    Retrieved on July 1, 2008 from
  • Mullally, C. First Amendment Center. Retrieved
    on July 1, 2008 from
  • Religion in the Public Schools. Retrieved on July
    2, 2008 from
  • Students Bill of Rights. Retrieved on July 1,
    2008 from