Religion in Schools
Frequently Asked Questions
May teachers teach about religious holidays?
Yes. Teachers may teach about religious holidays as part of an objective educational program that focuses on teaching about religion; however, celebrating religious holidays is unconstitutional. Teaching about the historical, contemporary, and cultural aspects of holidays of various world religions is subject to certain restrictions. Teaching about religion is likely allowed if:
- The proposed lesson furthers a genuine educational purpose;
- It is presented objectively; and
- It does not have the effect of advancing or inhibiting any religious or nonreligious practices.
Must public school officials make school facilities available during nonschool hours for religious use by religious organizations?
Some courts hold that the school may not refuse rental requests by religious groups if they grant such requests to other community groups. Other courts hold that the school may deny the rental requests of religious organizations which seek to use the premises for religious purposes as long as they do so consistently and do not apply selective rules to certain religious groups.
Is it constitutional to teach about religion in public schools?
Generally, yes. Public schools are not religion-free zones. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently rejected efforts to teach religion in the public schools, it has permitted teaching about religion in the context of a public education.
What constitutes teaching about religion?
Teaching about religion must be clearly distinguished from teaching religion, which amounts to religious indoctrination and practice and is clearly prohibited in public schools. A program intended to teach religion, disguised as teaching about religion, will be found unconstitutional.
Religion may be presented as part of a public educational program, with the goal of teaching students about the role of religion in the historical, cultural, economic and social development of the United Stated and other nations, and instilling understanding, tolerance and respect. Religion must be discussed in a neutral, objective, balanced and factual manner.
The curriculum’s approach may not be devotional or doctrinal, nor have the effect of promoting or inhibiting religion.
How may the study of religion be integrated into the public school curriculum?
The study of religion may naturally occur within the context of studying other topics. In early education, the subject of religion may naturally arise in discussion of families, communities, and different cultures and holidays. For older students, the topic may be integrated into classes on social studies, history, literature, art, music and comparative religions.
What does the law not permit?
Teachers may not:
- Lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities;
- Persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities;
What does the law permit?
- Voluntarily pray at non-instructional time before, during, or after the school day;
- Pray with fellow students during the school day on the same terms and conditions that they may engage in other conversation or speech;
- Pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction;
- Read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, lunch, or other non-instructional time.
- Express their belief about religion in homework, artwork, or other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.
- Dismiss students to off-premise religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation in such instruction or penalize students for attending or not attending. Therefore, it is lawful for schools to excuse Muslim students briefly from class to enable them to fulfill their religious obligations during Ramadan.