How Free Can Religion Be?

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As a result, school boards have lost virtually every fight over curriculum changes designed to challenge evolution, including disclaimers in biology textbooks. One of the most recent and notable of these cases, Kitzmiller v. After lengthy testimony from both proponents and opponents of intelligent design, a federal district court in Pennsylvania concluded that the policy violates the Establishment Clause because intelligent design is a religious, rather than scientific, theory.

Kitzmiller may have been the last major evolution case to make national headlines, but the debate over how to teach about the origins and development of life in public schools has continued in state legislatures, boards of education and other public bodies.

Religion and free speech: it's complicated - Index on Censorship Index on Censorship

Courts have also expended substantial time and energy considering public school programs that involve Bible study. Although the Supreme Court has occasionally referred to the permissibility of teaching the Bible as literature, some school districts have instituted Bible study programs that courts have found unconstitutional. Frequently, judges have concluded that these courses are thinly disguised efforts to teach a particular understanding of the New Testament. In a number of these cases, school districts have brought in outside groups to run the Bible study program. The groups, in turn, hired their own teachers, in some cases Bible college students or members of the clergy who did not meet state accreditation standards.

Such Bible study programs have generally been held unconstitutional because, the courts conclude, they teach the Bible as religious truth or are designed to inculcate particular religious sentiments. For a public school class to study the Bible without violating constitutional limits, the class would have to include critical rather than devotional readings and allow open inquiry into the history and content of biblical passages. Christmas-themed music programs also have raised constitutional concerns.

The schools also must be sensitive to the possibility that some students will feel coerced to participate in the program Bauchman v.

First Amendment and Religion

West High School, 10th U. Circuit Court of Appeals, ; Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District, 5th Circuit, Moreover, the courts have said, no student should be forced to sing or play music that offends their religious sensibilities. Therefore, schools must allow students the option not to participate. Not all the cases involving religion in the curriculum concern the promotion of the beliefs of the majority. Indeed, challenges have come from Christian groups arguing that school policies discriminate against Christianity by promoting cultural pluralism.

In one example, the 2nd U. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a New York City Department of Education policy regulating the types of symbols displayed during the holiday seasons of various religions. The department allows the display of a menorah as a symbol for Hanukkah and a star and crescent to evoke Ramadan but permits the display of only secular symbols of Christmas, such as a Christmas tree; it explicitly forbids the display of a Christmas nativity scene in public schools.

Klein that city officials intended to promote cultural pluralism in the highly diverse setting of the New York City public schools. The judicial panel ruled that the policy, therefore, did not promote Judaism or Islam and did not denigrate Christianity. In another high-profile case, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum v.

Religion In Colonial America

Ordinarily, opponents of homosexuality could not confidently cite the Establishment Clause as the basis for a complaint, because the curriculum typically would not advance a particular religious perspective. However, the Montgomery County curriculum included materials in teacher guides that disparaged some religious teachings on homosexuality as theologically flawed and contrasted those teachings with what the guide portrayed as the more acceptable and tolerant views of some other faiths.

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The district court concluded that the curriculum had both the purpose and effect of advancing certain faiths while denigrating the beliefs of others. The county rewrote these materials to exclude any reference to the views of particular faiths, making them more difficult to challenge successfully in court because the lessons did not condemn or praise any faith tradition.

At the time of its school prayer decisions in the early s, the Supreme Court had never ruled on whether students have the right of free speech inside public schools. By the end of that decade, however, the court began to consider the question.

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And the results have made the rules for religious expression far more complex. The court ruled that school authorities may not suppress expression by students unless the expression significantly disrupts school discipline or invades the rights of others. Some school officials responded to the mix of student liberties and restraints by forbidding certain forms of student-initiated religious expression such as the saying of grace before lunch in the school cafeteria, student-sponsored gatherings for prayer at designated spots on school property, or student proselytizing aimed at other students.

The First Amendment

Department of Education sent to every public school superintendent in The department revised the guidelines in , placing somewhat greater emphasis on the rights of students to speak or associate for religious purposes. The guidelines highlight these four general principles:. A case decided by the 9th U. Circuit Court of Appeals underscores the difficulties that school officials still can face when students exercise their right to religious expression on school property. In this case, gay and lesbian students in a California high school organized a Day of Silence, in which students promoting tolerance of differences in sexual orientation refrained from speaking in school.

The Court of Appeals, in Harper v.

Freedom of Religion: Crash Course Government and Politics #24

He concluded that the T-shirt could be seen as violating school policies against harassment based on sexual orientation. By permitting the Gay and Lesbian Alliance to conduct the Day of Silence, Kozinski said, the district was choosing sides on a controversial social issue and stifling religiously motivated speech on one side of the issue. Harper petitioned the Supreme Court to review the appeals court decision.

But Harper graduated from high school, and the case took a different turn. The Supreme Court, in early , ordered the lower court to vacate its ruling and dismiss the case on the grounds that it had become moot. Harper highlighted a tension — one that may yet recur — between the rights of students to engage in religious expression and the rights of other students to be educated in a non-hostile environment. For now, cases like Harper illustrate the difficulties for school officials in regulating student expression. Parents sometimes complain that secular practices at school inhibit their right to direct the religious upbringing of their children.

When they object to certain school practices, the parents often seek permission for their children to skip the offending lesson or class — to opt out — rather than try to end the practice schoolwide. The students said the flag represented a graven image and that their religion forbade them from recognizing it. The Amish community had a well-established record as hardworking and law-abiding, the court noted, and Amish teens would receive home-based training. The worldly influences present in the school experience of teenagers, the court said, would undercut the continuity of agrarian life in the Amish community.

In later decisions, lower courts recognized religious opt-outs in other relatively narrow circumstances. Parents successfully cited religious grounds to win the right to remove their children from otherwise compulsory military training Spence v. Cronin, In Menora v.

Illinois High School Association , the 7th U. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Illinois High School Association was constitutionally obliged to accommodate Orthodox Jewish basketball players who wanted to wear a head covering, despite an association rule forbidding headgear. The Menora case involves a narrow exception from the dress code, rather than a broader right to opt out of a curriculum requirement.

Under these opt-out programs, parents do not have to explain their objection, religious or otherwise, to participation by their children. On other occasions, however, parental claims that the Constitution entitles them to remove their children from part or all of a public school curriculum have fared rather poorly. The issue of home schooling is a good example. Before state legislatures passed laws allowing home schooling, parents seeking to educate their children at home were often unsuccessful in the courts. Many judges distinguished these home schooling cases from Yoder on the grounds that Yoder involved teenagers rather than young children.

The judges also noted that Yoder was concerned with the survival of an entire religious community — the Old Order Amish — rather than the impact of education on a single family. The most famous of the cases is Mozert v. The school board originally allowed children to choose alternative reading materials but then eliminated that option. The 6th U.

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Furthermore, the court said, the school board had a strong interest in exposing children to a variety of ideas and images and in using a uniform series of books for all children. Because the books did not explicitly adopt or denigrate particular religious beliefs, the court concluded, the parents could insist neither on the removal of the books from the schools nor on their children opting out. The 1st U. Circuit Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion in a case involving a public high school in Massachusetts that held a mandatory assembly devoted to AIDS and sex education.

In that case, Brown v. Hot, Sexy, and Safer Productions , the court rejected a complaint brought by parents who alleged that exposure to sexually explicit material infringed on their rights to religious freedom and control of the upbringing of their children.