Here are several of the issues a Christian student or parent may face in this upcoming school year.
To the excitement of some and to the dismay of many more, school is back in session. School zones are bustling, football teams are back in action and school supplies are flying off the shelves. With the return of school comes many challenges for students of all ages. Not the least of these challenges is how Christian students in public schools should stand for what they believe is right.
Navigating alone through the world of religious freedom in schools can overwhelm anyone, that’s why we’re here to help! Below are several of the issues a Christian student or parent may face in this upcoming school year.
Religious Clothing and Literature
If a student wishes to express his or her faith through clothing or by bringing their Bible to school, they may do so. Students can wear clothing with a religious message – including clothes with religious symbols and Bible verses – as long as the clothing meets the school’s dress code. Keep in mind that schools can place some restrictions on clothing; however, schools may not ban clothing of a specific religion.
Students also have the right to distribute Christian literature at school, as long as they are not disrupting school activities. This means that Christian students have the same rights as everyone else – if students have the right to post non-religious flyers at school, Christian students have the right to post their material. Be aware that schools are within their rights to set reasonable limits on when, where and how students may distribute literature, but they may not impose rules that would effectively ban the distribution of literature by students.
The First Amendment protects the rights of Christian students to share their Christian faith with their fellow students.
Christian Clubs and Events
Christian clubs (such as a Bible study or prayer group) and events are great ways to share the Christian faith with students and to encourage Christian students at a school. Students are within their rights to do either.
Schools are required to treat Christian clubs in the same manner they treat non-Christian clubs. Students who have formed a Christian club should have equal access to facilities, resources and equipment. Schools may also not involve themselves in membership standards or how leaders are chosen, meaning membership and leadership positions may be conditioned upon sharing the club’s Christian faith and values. Additionally, Christian clubs have the same rights as all other clubs to promote their events and activities.
Though more restrictions have been placed on them, Christian events at school are legal. Schools can neither encourage nor discourage participation in Christian events, but recognized Christian clubs can plan events on school property to take place outside of school hours. They can publicize the event in the same manner as other clubs.
Offensive Class Assignments and Material
Every year, Christian students unnecessarily subject themselves to offensive material or lower grades because they don’t know their rights. Christian students, with permission from their parents, may decline assignments or curriculum if it runs contrary to their faith. This right is important to remember with sexually explicit material and material condoning homosexuality being mandated for students as young as kindergartners.
The ability to include religious material or a religious worldview in classroom discussions or in homework assignments is also important. Students cannot be punished in any way for inserting their religious beliefs into class assignments. This means, among other things, that teachers may not give a student a lower grade simply because that student included religious material in an assignment.
Prayer at School
Prayer is integral to a Christian’s life. Prayer is also one of the most hotly contested forms of religious expression. Thankfully, the First Amendment protects the rights of students to pray.
As long as it does not interrupt school activities, students may lead their own or a group prayer time whenever and where ever they please. This means before or after class time, before or after sports games or practice and any time after school activities have ended. That the prayer must be initiated by a student is key – for example, a coach cannot require players to participate in prayer. It’s also important to remember that the prayer time must not make a student tardy to class, as that would be cause for school officials to claim the prayer time interfered with school activities.
Though graduation and commencement seems a long way off, it’ll be here sooner rather than later. If a student is chosen to speak at graduation, that student has the right to express religious viewpoints. However, a school cannot require a student to pray or set a specific prayer time.
Did you know that tens of thousands of public school students all across America are leaving their school campus during the school day to attend a Released-Time Bible Education program? Released-Time Education is a one hour per week program held at nearby churches, homes,or buildings built for that purpose geared to teach students about moral and religious matters. These programs are legal and a great way for students to receive Biblical training during the school day.
Learn more about Released-Time Education here.
Students’ Religious Freedom in Conclusion
By now, you should have a better understanding of students’ religious freedom rights. But just because you may know more does not mean religious liberty rights will automatically be protected.
Be on guard for restrictions from your school that may infringe upon students’ religious liberty. For example, watch specifically for standards or people that:
- Prohibit beliefs that are offensive or disrespectful, which can be used against those who do not support homosexuality or transgenderism.
- Restrict the discussion or inclusion of religious beliefs or religious figures in the classroom or in class assignments.
- Stop student-led prayers or Bible studies.
- Slight Christian clubs. Remember that they are to be given equal access to school resources just as non-religious clubs.
Every Christian student deserves the right to express their beliefs at school. If you or someone you know experiences any of these restrictions, please contact us right away. Palmetto Family is here to help with those circumstances.
Have a safe and fun school year!
Many of the religious freedoms discussed above are protected in South Carolina law due to the diligent work of Palmetto Family Alliance. Here are just a few of the bills we have championed:
- Student-Led Message Act
- Released Time Act
- Released Time Credit Act
- Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act
- Foundations of American Law
- Student-Led Message Act
This piece was adapted from material published by Alliance Defending Freedom. Find out more here.
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