Expression in Public Schools
A true-false quiz
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).”
- 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.
- 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.
- Students may read the Bible or other scriptures during the
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.
- 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