Can students pray in public schools? Can teachers say "Merry Christmas"? What the law allows - and forbids.

Wyoming State Representative Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, shows an example of the "In God We Trust" sign in Cheyenne, Wyo. Steinmetz is sponsoring a bill that would allow people to donate such signs to display prominent positions in state buildings and schools. His bill was approved by the State House and is now considered in the Senate of the state, winning the approval of a Senate commission on Tuesday. (AP Photo by Bob Moen) A few years ago I published an article about what teachers and students can and can not legally do in public schools when it comes to religion – and with the holiday season on us, I'm doing it again (with some additions). Below you can learn if children can pray at school and which teachers can introduce religion to children. -0-0-0- Can students pray inside their public school buildings? Can teachers say "Merry Christmas" to their students? Can religious music be played in public schools? Yes, yes and yes. There has been much misunderstanding about what is allowed and not allowed when talking about religious expression in public schools since the US Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools in a historical decision of 1962, stating that it violated the First Amendment. In fact, in 1995, then President Bill Clinton published a memo entitled "Religious expression in public schools", which in part said: some school officials, teachers and parents have assumed that religious expression of any kind is inappropriate, or banned altogether, in public schools. As our courts have reaffirmed, however, nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into areas free of religion, or requires that all religious expressions be left at the gates of the school. While the government can not use schools to compel the consciences of our students, or to transmit official recognition of religion, government schools may not even discriminate against private religious expression during the school day. Schools are forbidden to start or sponsor religious activities, including prayer, but religious groups can meet for school purposes after school, and students can pray for anything or anyone they want at any time of the day, provided they do so privately and not try to force others to do the same. Religion can (and should) be a class subject – but not proselytized – in public schools, sacred music can be played in schools under certain circumstances and schools can not prevent teachers or students from saying "Merry Christmas" to each other . Charles C. Haynes, vice president of the Freedom Forum Institute and founding director of the Religious Freedom Center, wrote this a few years ago. It is still (The Freedom Forum Institute is the education and awareness-raising partner of the Freedom Forum and the Newseum and includes the first correction center, the Religious Freedom Center, the Newseum education department and diversity and inclusion programs.) L & # 39 affirmation that public schools are hostile to Christians could revive the caucusgoers in Iowa, but there is only one problem: it is not true. To be sure, students of all faiths are actually free to pray alone or in groups during the school day, provided they do not interrupt school or interfere with the rights of others. Of course, the right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion does not necessarily include the right to preach to a prisoner public, such as an assembly, or to force other students to participate. Visit public schools anywhere in America today and you will probably see children praying around the flagpole, sharing their faith with classmates, reading the scriptures in their spare time, forming religious circles, and in other ways bringing God with them through the door. of the school every day. Regarding the celebration of Christmas, students are free to say "Merry Christmas", to send Christmas messages to others and to organize Christmas devotion in Christian student clubs. It is true that some public school officials continue to misunderstand (or ignore) the First Amendment by censoring the student religious expression that is protected by current law. But when they are challenged in court, they invariably lose. In fact, contrary to the mythology of cultural warfare, today in public schools there are more student discourses and religious practices than at any time in the last 100 years. When politicians demonize the courts for banning God from the schools, they rely on public confusion about the distinction of the First Amendment between the government's discourse promoting religion, which prohibits the institution clause, and the student discourse that promotes religion, that the clauses free exercise and freedom of speech protect. The US Supreme Court has never established that children can not pray at school. What the Court has done – and continues to do – is to break down the school-sponsored prayers and devotional exercises as violations of religious freedom. As a result of these decisions, school officials can not impose prayers or organize prayer events or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations. Students, however, are not the government; they can – and often do – openly pray and share their faith in public schools. And religious symbols? This is from Teaching Tolerance, a South Poverty Law Center nonprofit project on the left: Bringing religious symbols into public school classrooms is OK? Many educators struggle with this question, fearful of stumbling over the lines that protect our freedom of religion and separate the church and the state. We know that the courts have interpreted the First Amendment Clause to indicate that public schools can not promote religious or anti-religious beliefs, but we know that teachers can teach religion as long as (a) the content is linked to academic goals and (b) ) teachers do not try to indoctrinate students to certain religious beliefs or non-beliefs. But does this answer the question about religious symbols? Use symbols such as educational aids, not as permanent visualization or decoration. While still being contested in some areas, permanent displays of religious symbols on the ownership of public schools violate the current interpretations of the established Clause. The Ten Commandments, for example, are indisputably religious in nature. Their permanent exhibition in public schools communicates the approval for Christianity – just like hanging a David star in a classroom might make it appear that the school favors Judaism. The Ten Commandments could, however, be temporarily exposed in a comparative literature classroom as didactic help in a Bible lesson as a literary source for other works. Didactic aids, in this context, are referenced objects during education to help students understand a particular religious heritage. Another example would be a Muslim prayer rug to illustrate the Islamic practice of Salah, or a poster on the Crusades in a history classroom depicting people holding crosses. The question of "display" versus educational use can be particularly complex in art and music classes. Music and religious art can be included as part of instruction in the classroom, but it is the teacher's responsibility to make clear the link to academic content, to refrain from any form of proselytism or denigration of religion or religion. followers of that religion, and confronting any form of proselytism or denigration include the art that represents multiple religious and profane views of the world. Consider the Christmas tree. The Supreme Court has declared that the Christmas tree is an age-old symbol of the Christmas holidays; therefore, viewing a Christmas tree in the school lobby temporarily does not violate the settlement clause. Even a Hanukkah menorah has been determined to be a centuries-old symbol and does not violate the established Clause when it is temporarily displayed. Even so, public schools should be careful in choosing to put out these symbols. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, many students and families associate them with religions and religious festivals that not all members of the school community observe or celebrate. Their performance could marginalize non-Christian and non-Jewish students and be counterproductive to the positive school climate we work to establish. Colby May, director of the Washington office of the American Center for Law and Justice, wrote a piece on the same topic that is published on the AASA website, or the school superintendency, and offered directions , including: eligible? A problem that administrators and public school teachers often face is the appropriate role that religion can play during the classroom teaching period. There is a fundamental difference between "religious activity" or "religious education" in the classroom – that is, between educating students about the fact that the principles of a religion are true and must be followed, which is not allowed, and to teach about religion, as they believe members of various religions, which is permitted. The Department of Education of the United States explains it in this way in its guidelines of 2003, Religious expression in public schools: "Teachers and school administrators, when they act in such qualities, are representatives of the state and are forbidden by the Establishment clause to solicit or encourage religious activities and participation in this activity with students.Teachers and administrators are also prohibited from discouraging activities because of their religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging anti-religious activities. " guidance prohibit public school teachers from engaging in religious activities in the classroom, state that the established clause does not mean that religion is strictly prohibited by public schools in all respects. In Stone v. Graham in 1980, the Supreme Court declared that the question before "was not a case in which the Ten Commandments are integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible can be constitutionally used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion or similar. "In other words, the Bible, the Koran and other religious texts can be studied or otherwise used in public schools for their literary, poetic or historical aspects, but schools can not teach that the religious principles of these texts are true or false. In this regard, the guidelines state: "Public schools can not provide religious instruction, but they can teach religion, including the Bible or other scriptures: the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scriptures) as literature and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries are all admissible public school subjects, and religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies can be considered. "In addition, a federal court ruled a 2000 case involving a Michigan charter school that teachers can address religious issues in more detail in response to students' questions. The bottom line is that religious beliefs and practices can be discussed in the classroom in an academic, non-devotional manner. Journal School Administrator, October 2006, published by AASA, The Sovrintendents School Association.

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