Students, Teachers, Parents: Know Your Rights! About Religious Freedom in Public Schools
For almost 75 years, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has represented Americans of all faiths and no religion unifying for the fundamental freedom to live and believe as we choose. If you’re a student or teacher at a public school, or your kids attend one, it is important to Know Your Rights! about religious freedom in public schools.
Knowing your rights is not anti-religion. Religious freedom is part of what it means to be an American. Our system of church-state separation means that individuals, not school or government officials, get to make their own decisions about religion. Public schools educate 90% of U.S. students and they’re an important building block for a diverse, welcoming society. Religious freedom means that children of all religions and none should feel welcome in their own public school.
Americans United is Here to Help!
There is more to learn! The following guides were created to help students/teachers/parents Know Your Rights about religious freedom in public schools.
Students, Did You Know:
You have the right to pray, discuss, or express your own personal beliefs with your friends and peers as long as you don’t disrupt class. You can form religious clubs and groups too, as long as they are started and run by students, not your school or teachers, and follow the same rules as all student clubs.
Teachers can’t make you pray at school or at any school event, and they can’t kick you out of a club or off a team if you refuse to pray.
And they can’t say one religion is true or correct or teach religious beliefs instead of facts (like creationism instead of evolution).
Teachers, Did You Know:
If you’re a coach, you can’t force your players to pray before the game or even suggest "voluntary" prayer -- which will make students who don't want to participate feel excluded.
If you’re a music teacher, you can’t have the school choir practice or perform in a church or synagogue if the students would be exposed to religious displays or images.
If you’re a history teacher, you can teach about how the Bible influenced culture or society, but you can’t teach it as the “inspired word of God.”
Parents, Did You Know:
Public schools, staff and teachers can’t endorse, sponsor or conduct prayer at school? This means no prayers in morning announcements, at sports events, graduation ceremonies or any other kind of school activity.
Public schools can’t discriminate against LGBTQ students, even if they think their religion commands them to. If a public school allows student-run clubs, then it must also allow LGBTQ student-run clubs. Public schools cannot use religious objections from administrators, politicians or parents to block these types of student expression.
Both inside the classroom and out, things like crosses, the Ten Commandments, or any religious symbols on school property are unconstitutional.
Witnessed a Violation?
If you think you have witnessed or experienced a violation of religious freedom rights in your public school, let us know! We are here to help. We have a quick form you can complete here: https://www.au.org/get-involved/report-a-violation/form
Remember to include as much information as you can. Things like (1) the date/time of the violation, (2) the location of the violation, and (3) the names and positions of the people involved in the violation. Please remember that in many cases, the material you supply will be the only information we have.
And don’t forget to give us the best way to get in touch with you. Our attorneys may need to reach out for more information once they receive your form.
More questions about violations? We also have a Violation FAQ here: https://www.au.org/get-involved/report-a-violation/FAQ