Religious expression—What is legally permissible for students in America's public schools?

Photo courtesy of Films for Christ. Copyrighted.

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the issue of religion in public education. What can and can't students do. What can and can't school officials do? Horror stories abound that describe students doing what is legally permissible, with school officials reacting in ways not legally permitted. Much of the debate is based upon pure ignorance. People just don't know the facts. On a lesser scale, students have also violated religious dos and don'ts, clashing head-on with teachers and administrators.

On August 10, 1995, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, working under the direction of President Clinton, issued a "statement of principles" titled "Religious Expression in Public Schools." At a time in our nation's history when religion, and Christianity specifically, experiences the wrath of scholarship and academia, Secretary Riley's effort attempts to inform and guide school superintendents across the country.

Let's be clear on one point. Secretary Riley's Statement is an expression of today's courts, as understood by the current Attorney General. It does not indicate the goals of the framers of the Constitution—America's Founding Fathers, who had a different perspective on religion in public education. Formerly, Christianity was to be encouraged; in fact, it was advanced. Daily Bible reading and devotionals were an accepted standard in public education.

Within the last generation the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, have dramatically shifted the relationship between government and religion, or Church and State as it is commonly called. However, our goal here is not to analyze the history of this shift or the history of religion in public education. We simply want you to know where things are—right now.

There's the way it is, and there's the way it was. The Secretary's Statement reflects the way it is.

[To learn more about the way it was, read David Barton's book, Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion]

Summary of current legalities concerning “religion” in public education

Copyrighted. Photo courtesy of Films for Christ.

There are indeed gray areas surrounding religion in public education. For example, the question of whether or not students can pray—as students—at their graduation ceremonies has yet to be addressed by the Supreme Court in a definitive manner. There are differing opinions in the various Appeals Courts. There are other gray areas that will no doubt need continual clarification. The Secretary of Education's Statement is simply the federal reaction to a growing problem in public education. Fine-tuning will be done in the courts.

More information

Author: Provided by WallBuilders. Used with permission by Films for Christ. Copyright © 1997, WallBuilders, Inc., All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.

Go to index page