Prayers in SchoolQUESTION: Prayers in Schools - What is permissible expression?ANSWER:
Permissible expression has been thoroughly defined for us by the U.S. Supreme Court. President Clinton's Administration amended the "Guidelines For Religious Expression In Public Schools" in 1996 and 1998. Thanks to diligent watchers, students may express their freedom of religion and freedom of speech without facing reprisals from teachers and school officials. It is imperative that students and parents realize these rights to protect themselves from harassment by schools. Effort is needed to look up their own state's bill of rights of permissible expression of religious freedoms in the public schools.
Permissible expressions allow students the freedom to express their religious beliefs, as long as the expression does not disrupt class instruction. The First amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows a student to read the Bible, say grace before meals, or pray before tests as permissible expression. All these activities can be done permissibly in a non-disruptive manner.
"Specifically, students in informal settings, such as cafeteria, hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each other, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student activities," says the Guidelines For Religious Expression In Public Schools, 1998.
"Schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their personal religious views or beliefs solely because they are of a religious nature," says Richard W. Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education, 1996, President Clinton's Administration.
Students may participate in activities before and after school that contain religious content. These activities can be "meet you at the flag pole" events, Bible studies led by students, and prayer groups led by students. Schools may not discourage participation in these activities.
According to the Guidelines For Religious Expression In Public School (1998), "Teachers and administrators also are prohibited from discouraging activity because of its religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging anti-religious activity."
A child wishing to use a "Jesus Loves Me" pencil may do so without the intimidating actions of the teacher grabbing the pencil, breaking it in half, and throwing it away. A student may wear a T-shirt with religious sayings without being forced to turn the T-shirt inside out. Religious messages on clothing may not be suppressed, but allowed the same freedoms that apply to general messages.
Students, by their freedom of speech rights, may permissibly express their religious beliefs in the form of homework, artwork, and other written or oral assignments without being discriminated against or reprimanded. The work should be judged on its academic standards and substance, as accorded by permissible expression. It allows and behooves the school system to teach the moral code that holds a culture together as a safe community in which to live, the moral code that is enhanced by the Ten Commandments.