Look around you. All of those adults with smiles are parents of school-age children. They just looked at the calendar.
Those young people looking dazed, with tears in their eyes are students who also just noticed the calendars.
And the adults who are in line at the pharmacy getting nerve pills refilled, or who are seeking appointments with therapists, or looking through the want ads … those are the teachers, and yes, they just looked at the calendar too. School is starting back this week.
It’s once again time to fill little brains with needed information (multiplication tables, the Periodic Chart, sentence diagramming, the War of 1812, Silas Marner and MacBeth; or as we do in this age of technology, teach them how to browse, play video games and use social media) as we prayerfully try to make them productive citizens of society.
The last few years, at the beginning of school, I have dedicated Church Talk to providing valuable information on the religious rights of students, parents and staff members in our schools. I have gotten a lot of good response from this, plus requests for additional information or sources of information.
We, sadly, live in a time when secularist, humanists and so-called “atheists” would strip our schools of anything religious, under the very mistaken guise of “separation of church and state” (probably the greatest hoax ever played in America). And sadly, too, our school personnel, teachers, administrators and others are often not aware of what the rights of the people are in schools and too often quickly kowtow to unreasonable and unlawful requests from some of these “fringe” groups.
A 1969 court ruling says simply: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” And in 1995, “Our precedent establishes that private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression.”
So today let me share some general principles on religious rights and expression in our schools (these come from the Liberty Institute; they and a number of other such groups are great assets in protection of liberty).
A student’s constitutional right to pray, read the Bible and discuss religion during non-instructional time: It is well established that students have First Amendment rights in public schools.
There is an important distinction between “government” speech (the speech of the school district and its employees), and “private” student speech. Although there are some limits that apply to government speech, the Constitution fully protects a student’s private religious expression.
The First Amendment prohibits a school district and its employees from being hostile toward religious beliefs and expression. The proper role of a school district is to remain neutral and accommodating toward private religious beliefs. Unlike the government, students may promote specific religious beliefs and practices.
In 2000, the 11th Circuit observed, the Constitution “does not permit a public school to confine religious speech to whispers or banish it to broom closets. If it did, the exercise of one’s religion would not be free at all.”
Public schools must treat religious expression such as prayer, reading the Bible, and religious discussion the same way they treat similar non-religious expression.
Some frequently asked questions include: can students incorporate religion or their faith in school assignments or projects? Yes, as long as that can be shown to be part of the assignment or project. Student work “should be judged on the basis of academic standards and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.”
Can students have Bible clubs on campus? Yes, if the school allows other such non-curricular clubs to meet, they cannot discriminate against religious clubs.
Can students distribute flyers about religious club meetings and events during school hours? Yes, it the school allows students to distribute other materials in the same way.
Can students read the Bible or other religious material at school? Yes, during non-instructional time when other students are allowed to read items they want to read.
Can students verbally share their faith with fellow students? Yes, if a school allows students to freely converse with each other about various topics during non-instructional time, students can also share their faith with their fellow students.
This is just a brief “smattering” of truth on the subject of religion in schools and the rights of staff and students of faith in regard to their religion.
The general Constitutional and court-answered principle is simply this: freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not end at the classroom or school door.
Next week, Lord willing, what rights to teachers and other staff members “of faith” have in the public schools.
Check out the information on-line from the Liberty Institute (www.libertyinstitute.org) and other Christian legal groups. Know what the rights are and also know that our Lord Jesus commanded us to live out the gospel and share the gospel to others.