Newsline , Society

Religious Expression in Schools

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2021
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles

Our nation is not about defacing churches, defaming faith, closing services, antisemitism, or soft-walking Merry Christmas.

A new case, testing the First Amendment and free exercise of religion in public schools – is making news. On one hand, it should not be news. On the other, given recent attacks on religion, antisemitism, closing services, banning creches, defacing churches, it deserves notice.

Facts: Roughly a year ago, an assistant football coach at a public university returned from leave “following … death of his wife” to find a “Black Lives Matter” poster on his door.

Not in sympathy, he removed it. Notably, polls show only 44 percent of Americans support the group. See, e.g., Support for Black Lives Matter movement is declining, according to new poll. But that was not his offense.

The coach replaced that poster, having just buried his wife, with a poster with religious content. It read: “All lives matter to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” According to public reports, he was allegedly asked to remove it, did not, got “forced to issue an apology,” was terminated. See Former football coach fired for removing Black Lives Matter poster alleges First Amendment rights violated.

The legal question, if not be obvious, is whether a public-school official can exercise First Amendment rights under these circumstances, whether he faced “viewpoint discrimination.”

The case offers a chance to review Supreme Court rulings as parents and teachers confront increasing “push back” from left-leaning school boards, administrators, and politicians.

Here is the hard-and-fast law, so no question lingers on what rights exist – in public schools.

First, the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees religious freedom. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, no “state religion,” but you may believe anything you wish.

Notably, these are the first words of the first amendment of the first document to define our Nation, assuring preservation of individual rights for consent to be governed. Important? Yes.

Second, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held religious speech cannot be treated differently from non-religious in schools. Students may pray, speak, persuade, share religious views.

Third, while teachers may not “lead their classes in prayer” or “devotional readings from the Bible,” they retain their First Amendments – including religious expression – in school.

The Supreme Court has ruled: Teachers and students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” and “private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular expression.” If leading a prayer group in the school is foreclosed, expressing belief is not.

Nor are these decisions new. They are foundational, longstanding, some more than 50 years old. For reference, see Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist. (1969), Heffron v. Int’l Soc. for Krishna Consciousness (1981), Widmar v. Vincent (1981), Lamb’s Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist. (1993), and Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette (1995).

Rather than being silenced, cowed, intimidated, or coerced into not expressing religious convictions, students and teachers have the right to viewpoint expression, including about their religious beliefs, subject to narrowly tailored prohibitions on specific instruction.

Fourth, a distinction exists between officially “sponsored” prayer and privately expressed views, even in a schoolhouse. In a case called Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe (2000), the Court explained “not every message … on government property” or “at government-sponsored school-related events” is “the government’s own.” It may be a personal or private expression of faith.

That would certainly seem to fit the notion of a private poster on a personal office door, perhaps like any other religious symbol, picture, inspirational quote, or religious affirmation on a desk, shirt, handbag, briefcase, bumper sticker, license plate, or on a necklace.

Fifth, laziness in distinguishing between private and government speech is not permitted. The default to anti-religious policies, or even subtle hostility to those of faith, is not allowed. The Supreme Court is clear, saying those of faith will not be discriminated against. Thus, a student speaking at a ceremony about faith is not “attributable” to the school, does not permit censure, since “the proposition that schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor is not complicated,” and the Constitution requires neutrality. See, Bd. of Educ. v. Mergens (1990).

Sixth, very specifically – teachers are not forced to be secular in school. They are allowed to be themselves, take part in religious activities if not as officials, privately pray, make calls relating to faith, and in non-teaching periods pray together, as they can for non-religious purposes.

One wonders how much more this policy would apply to a non-teacher, or non-instructional recreation coach, who has a poster on his door.

Yes, the Courts will have to sort out facts, apply the law. But as Christmas and Hanukkah approach, faith is no “orphan.” We should sit up, recognize that the law supports those of faith.

Bottom line: This nation was founded on faith, prospers by respect for those of faith. The Hand of Providence has rested on our shoulders, protected us in ways mysterious and inscrutable. Washington said so. Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Carter, Reagan, recently Trump, and Biden spoke to it. Our nation is not about defacing churches, defaming faith, closing services, antisemitism, or soft-walking Merry Christmas. Peace and goodwill – in schools and out – is a better way.

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2 years ago

If we ever forget that we are a nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.
Ronald Reagan

When have we heard the words God, Family or Patriotism from this admin. ? Moral decay from the top down.

Patriot Bill
Patriot Bill
2 years ago

But let’s make this clear. “Black Lives Matter” is only a name. It does not support any black people in any way. It is just a clever way of funding a Marxist movement, by calling it something else.
Just like “Build Back Better” is also a name that falsely covers a policy that will make EVERYTHING WORSE

Sharon Ormsby
Sharon Ormsby
2 years ago

We couldn’t display a nativity scene in our office or have it in our classrooms at our public schools. Made us very sad. Where once we could sing Silent Night and other songs like that in elementary, now they had to be secular. However, in junior high and high school-they could still have religious songs because they were often contest (UIL) material. I did get away with having scriptures on my desk in my nursing office. This led to several kids confiding in me or asking me very personal things. One was a young girl asking how she might ask her gay fathers if she could go to church. Later, they allowed her to begin going to church with her Aunt. She was excited and as a family they began having prayers. Another older student inquired where he might find a “nice” girl to date. He was inquiring about a virginal girl-one who didn’t expect him to have sex if going out on a date. He met his wife because of what I shared with him. There were other interesting and lovely things kids confided or asked because of these scriptures being there. A Bible club was also begun after school at one of our elementary schools. A lot of children joined it. It was surprising to see the number of parents that allowed but was exciting to see the number of children who wanted to go. A lot rode busses, but on that day, parents came and picked them up instead. They wanted their children to learn of God.

2 years ago

Defund all government schools. They are the enemy of the American family, and there are alternatives.

2 years ago

And yet, those good ol murdering muslims can pray all they want in OUR society..courtesy of their FILTHY, evil mohammad, who instructs them to murder every non muslim.
Yes. Religion in America MUST BE fixed…….

Di B
Di B
2 years ago

Thank you for this – your words bring me peace in a world of chaos.

Jack Davis
Jack Davis
2 years ago

The issue of Christianity the schools are still disobeying the laws that are made children can read their Bible at lunch break and pray over their food. The educational system seems to feel there a law group of their own choosing.And now the FBI is investigating the parents and causing problems. The parents have rights the schools don’t like it they’re fighting the parents and ignoring their rights.

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