Policy Information
Series 8000-8505 - 8000-8505

RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN THE INSTRUCTIONAL PROGRAM
Policy # 8360R

These  regulations  have  been  developed  to  provide  guidance  to  District  staff  and  students regarding  religious  expression  in  the  public  schools.  Guidance  beyond  the  statements  in  these regulations may be found in four basic principles which would apply to the topic of teaching about religion in schools:

 

1)      Is it constitutionally permissible;

 

2)       Is it educationally sound;

 

3)       Is it culturally sensitive; and

 

4)      Is it age appropriate?

 

Student Prayer and Religious Discussion

)        The Establishment  Clause of the First Amendment  does not prohibit  purely  private religious

speech by students. Students, therefore, have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer

and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity. For

example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before

tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable nondisruptive activities. School authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and other pedagogical restrictions on student activities, but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech.

 

Generally, students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instruction,  and  subject  to  the  rules  that  normally  pertain  in  the  applicable  setting.  Specifically, students  in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views  with each other, subject to the same  rules  of order  as apply to other student  activities  and speech.Students may also speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. School officials,  however, should  intercede to stop student speech that constitutes harassment aimed at a student or a group of students.

 

Students may also participate in before or after school events with religious content on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum  activities on school premises. School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event.

 

The right to engage involuntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to have a captive audience listen, or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and  school  administrators  should  ensure  that  no  student  is  in  any  way  coerced  to  participate  in religious activity.

Graduation Prayer and Baccalaureates

 

Under current Supreme Court decisions, school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies. If a school generally opens its facilities to private groups, it must make its facilities available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious baccalaureate services.

 

Official Neutrality Regarding Religious Activity

 

Teachers and school administrators,  when acting in those capacities, are representatives  of the state and are prohibited by the establishment clause from soliciting or encouraging religious activity, and from participating in such activity with students. Teachers and administrators also are prohibited from discouraging activity because of its religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging anti­ religious activity.

   Teaching About Religion

 

Public  schools  may  not  provide  religious  instruction,  but  they  may  teach  about  religion, including the Bible or other scripture:  the history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature, and the role of religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public school subjects. Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on  art,  music,  literature,  and  social  studies.  Although  public  schools  may  teach  about  religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students.

 

Student Assignments

 

Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.

 

Religious Literature

 

Students have a right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute  other literature that is unrelated to school  curriculum  or activities. Schools may impose the same reasonable time, place,and manner or other constitutional  restrictions on distribution of religious literature as they do on non-school literature generally, but they may not single out religious literature for special regulation.

Religious Exemptions From Instruction

 

Subject  to  applicable  state  laws,  schools  enjoy  substantial  discretion  to  excuse  individual students  from  lessons  that  are  objectionable  to  the  student  or  the  students'  parents/guardians  on religious or other conscientious grounds. However, students generally do not have a federal right to be excused from lessons that may be inconsistent with their religious beliefs or practices. School officials may  neither  encourage  nor  discourage  students  from  availing  themselves  of  such  a  religious exemption. However, if such exemption is granted, alternative activities may be provided that are of comparable instructional value.

 

Released Time

Subject to applicable state laws, schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not attend. Schools may not allow religious instruction by outsiders on school premises during the school day.

Teaching Values

 

Though  schools  must be neutral with respect  to religion,  they may play an active  role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community, The fact that some of these values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.

 

Student Dress

 

Schools enjoy substantial discretion in adopting rules and regulations relating to student dress and school uniforms. Students generally have no federal right to be exempted from religiously neutral and generally  applicable school dress rules based on their religious beliefs or practices; however, schools may not single out religious attire in general, or attire of a particular religion, for prohibition or regulation. Students may display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent that they are permitted to display other comparable messages. Religious messages may not be singled out for suppression, but rather are subject to the same rules as generally apply to comparable messages.

 

Equal Access Act

 

The Equal Access Act is designed to ensure that, consistent with the First Amendment, student religious  activities are accorded  the same  access  to public  school facilities  as are student  secular activities.

General Provisions

 

Student religious groups at public secondary schools have the same right of access to school facilities as is enjoyed by other comparable student groups. Under the Equal Access Act, a school receiving federal funds that allows one or more student non-curriculum related clubs to meet on its premises during non-instructional time may not refuse access to student religious groups.

 

Prayer Services and Worship Exercises Covered

 

A meeting, as defined and protected by the Equal Access Act, may include a prayer service, Bible reading, or other worship exercise.

 

Equal Access to Means of Publicizing Meetings

 


 A school receiving federal funds must allow student religious groups meeting under the Equal Access Act to use the school media-- including the public address system, the school newspaper, and the school bulletin board -- to announce their meetings on the same terms as other non-curriculum related student groups are allowed to use the school media. Any policy, rule or regulation concerning the use of school media must be applied to all non-curriculum related student groups in a nondiscriminatory manner. Schools, however, may inform students that certain groups are not school sponsored.

Lunch Time and Recess Covered

 

A school creates a limited open forum under the Equal Access Act, triggering equal access rights for  religious  groups,  when  it  allows  students  to  meet  during  their  lunch  periods  or  other  non­ instructional time during the school day, as well as when it allows students to meet before and after the school day.


Adoption Date: 9/1/2012
8000-8505 - 8000-8505