Answers: Religious Expression in Public Schools
A true-false quiz

  1. Students may not engage in group prayer and religious discussion during the school day.
    False. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private religious speech by students. Students have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activity. Students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable nondisruptive activities. Both the Congress and the Supreme Court in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens support equal access for secondary students’ religious speech.

  2. A “limited open forum” is created whenever a public secondary school provides an opportunity for one or more noncurriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during noninstructional time.
    True. This language comes directly from the Equal Access Act, Sec. 4071(b). The forum is “limited” in the sense that the school’s obligation of fair treatment extends only to the students at that school and not to every person who might wish to speak or meet in school facilities.

  3. Schools may not establish regulations for meetings that take place in its limited open forum.
    False. The Equal Access Act does not take away the school’s authority to establish reasonable time, place and manner regulations for its limited open forum. The regulations must be uniform and nondiscriminatory of any club.

  4. Schools may not assign teachers to supervise a meeting of a religious club.
    False. For insurance purposes or because of state law or local school policy, teachers or other school employees may be required to be present during student meetings. The assigned employee may not influence the form or content of any prayer or other religious activity. If no monitor is required by state law, the school, at its discretion, may allow the meeting to take place without a monitor. If no teacher will agree to supervise a meeting, the school should consider the alternative of allowing the students to have a nonschool person as a monitor. By no means should a monitor requirement be used as a loophole to prohibit religious groups from meeting.

  5. Schools may allow student clubs in which abortion, drinking age and alternative lifestyles are discussed.
    True. Schools cannot bar clubs on the basis of the content of the speech expressed. The school is not required to permit meetings in which unlawful conduct occurs.

  6. If religious groups are allowed to meet on school premises under the Equal Access Act, then the school must allow cults and hate groups, such as the Skinheads and KKK to meet.
    False. The Supreme Court specifically stated in Mergens:

    “The [Equal Access] Act expressly does not limit a school’s authority to prohibit meetings that would ‘materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities with the school.’ Sec. 4071(c)(4); cf. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503, 509 (1969). The Act also preserves ‘the authority of the school, its agents or employees, to maintain order and discipline on school premises, to protect the well-being of students and faculty, and to assure that attendance of students at meetings is voluntary.’ Sec. 4071(f).”

  7. Students may display religious messages on items of clothing.
    True. Students are permitted to display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent that they are permitted to display other comparable messages. Religious messages may not be singled out for repression, but rather are subject to the same rules as generally apply to comparable messages. Items of clothing that may cause “material and substantial interference” at school are not allowed on school premises.

  8. School officials, including class sponsors, may not organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies.
    True. Under current Supreme Court decisions, school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies.

  9. Students may read the Bible or other scriptures during the school day.
    True. As long as students are not disruptive and are not interfering with required class work or other pedagogical restrictions, they may read the Bible and other scriptures during the school day.

  10. A student may say a prayer before his meal in the school’s cafeteria, but a group of students may not. This could be considered coercion or intimidation.
    False. Students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instruction. Specifically, students in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious view with each other, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other student activities and speech. School officials may intercede to stop speech that has become harassment aimed at a student or a group of students.

A complete copy of the 1998 Religious Expression in Public Schools may be obtained online. The Christian Legal Society their Center for Law and Religious Freedom provides an online copy of the Equal Access Act and The Equal Access Act and the Public Schools questions and answers. Both of these documents can be found in Finding Common Ground.