SCHOOL BOARD POLICY REGARDING RELIGION
By Mathew D. Staver, Esq.
Music, Art, Drama, Literature
It is the intent of this policy to promote tolerance and understanding among
students, faculty and staff. It is further the intent of this policy to neither
promote nor to denigrate religion or religious practices. Students and staff
members should be excused from participating in practices which are contrary
to their religious beliefs unless there are compelling reasons that would
The several holidays throughout the year which have a religious and secular
basis may be observed in the public schools.
The historical and contemporary values and the origin of religious holidays
may be explained in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination.
Music, art, drama, and literature having religious themes or bases are permitted
as part of the curriculum for school-sponsored activities and programs if
presented in a prudent and objective manner and as a traditional part of the
cultural and religious heritage of the particular holiday.
The use of religious symbols such as a cross, menorah, crescent, Star of David,
creche, symbols of Native American religions, or other symbols that are part
of a religious holiday are permitted as a teaching aid or resource provided
such symbols are displayed as an example of the cultural and religious heritage
of the holiday and are temporary in nature. Among these holidays are included
Christmas, Easter, Passover, Hanukkah, St. Valentines Day, St. Patricks Day,
Thanksgiving and Halloween.
The districts calendar should be prepared so as to minimize conflicts with
religious holidays of all faiths.
Religious institutions and orientations are central to human experience, past
and present. An education excluding such a significant aspect would be incomplete.
It is essential that the teaching about and not of religion be conducted in
a factual, objective and respectful manner.
The School Board supports the inclusion of religious literature, music, drama,
and the arts in the curriculum and in school activities provided it is intrinsic
to the learning experience in the various fields of study and is presented
objectively. The Bible or other religious literature may be used as an appropriate
study of history, civilization, ethics, or comparative religions so long as
it is presented in an objective manner without promoting belief or non-belief.
The emphasis on religious themes in the arts, literature and history should
be only as extensive as necessary for a balanced and comprehensive study of
these areas. Such studies should never foster any particular religious tenets
or demean any religious beliefs.
Student-initiated expressions to questions or assignments which reflect their
beliefs or non-beliefs about a religious theme shall be accommodated. Students
are free to express religious belief or non-belief in compositions, art forms,
music, speech and debate.
Literature Distribution and Clothing
It is the intent of this policy to recognize the free speech rights of students
in public school. Students on public school campuses have the right to express
their ideas verbally and through the distribution of literature so long as
their speech does not disrupt the ordinary operation of the school.
Students may verbally express their ideas during class so long as their verbal
expressions are consistent with the subject matter being taught.
Students may verbally express their ideas to other students during noninstructional
time so long as their speech is not disruptive to the ordinary operation of
the school and does not infringe on the rights of other students.
Students may distribute literature during noninstructional time so long as
the distribution is not disruptive to the ordinary operation of the school
and does not infringe on the rights of other students.
Students may wear symbols or articles of clothing which contain written or
symbolic expressions so long as such symbols or clothing is not obscene and
does not infringe on the rights of other students.
As used in this section, the term "noninstructional time" means
before or after school hours, between classes, during lunch or recess times.
As used in this section, the term "does not disrupt the ordinary operation
of the school" means that the speaker be the initiator and cause of disruption.
It does not mean that other students must agree with the speaker. Disruption
by other students in response to the students expressions should not be construed
to mean that the speaker is causing disruption. "Disruptive to the ordinary
operation of the school" includes littering, forcing other students to
listen by shouting or preventing passage, and engaging in speech activities
during instructional time which is not consistent with the subject matter
As used in this section, the term "infringe on the rights of other students"
means defamatory expressions against another student.
It is the intent of this policy to recognize the solemnity of graduation ceremonies.
It is also the intent to recognize the delicate balance between free speech
rights and establishment of religion concerns.
School officials shall not invite a clergyman for the specific purpose to
pray at graduation, place the prayer on the agenda, and give the clergyman
guidelines for saying the prayer.
School officials may use secular criteria to invite a speaker for the graduation
ceremony, and if the speaker voluntarily chooses to pray, school officials
should not prevent the prayer.
Schools may rent out their facilities to outside organizations to conduct
graduation at which a clergyman or other person is invited to pray and where
prayer is placed on the agenda so long as school officials do not organize,
conduct, promote or prescribe the content of the graduation ceremony.
Schools may turn over part or all of the graduation ceremony to a parent and/or
student committee to organize part or all of the ceremony at which the inclusion
of prayer shall rest within the discretion of the graduating senior class.
The prayer, if used, shall be given by a student or other person who is not
an employee of the school.
Section Regarding Graduation Ceremonies
The use of a brief opening and/or closing message, not to exceed two minutes,
at high school graduation exercises shall rest within the discretion of the
graduating senior class.
The opening and/or closing message shall be given by a student volunteer,
in the graduating senior class, chosen by the graduating senior class as a
If the graduating senior class chooses to use an opening and/or closing message,
the content of that message shall be prepared by the student volunteer and
shall not be monitored or otherwise reviewed by the school board, its officers
It is the intent of this policy to recognize noncurriculum-related student
clubs as being a traditional and vital part of a students educational process
within the public school system. It is further the intent to provide nondiscriminatory
guidelines for the continued operation of student-initiated clubs.
Any public secondary school which receives federal financial assistance and
which has a limited open forum shall not deny equal access or a fair opportunity
to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within
that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical,
or the content of the speech at such meetings.
A public secondary school is a limited open forum whenever such school grants
an offering to or opportunity for one or more noncurriculum-related student
groups to meet on school premises during noninstructional time.
Schools shall be deemed to offer a fair opportunity to students who wish to
conduct a meeting within its limited open forum if such school uniformly provides
the meeting is voluntary and student-initiated;
there is no sponsorship of the meeting by the school, the government, or its
agents or employees;
employees or agents of the school or government are present at religious meetings
only in a nonparticipatory capacity;
the meeting does not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly
conduct of educational activities within the school; and
nonschool persons may not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities
of student groups.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit 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.
The term "sponsorship" includes the act of promoting, leading, or
participating in a meeting. The assignment of a teacher, administrator, or
other school employee to a meeting for custodial purposes does not constitute
sponsorship of the meeting.
The term "meeting" includes those activities of student groups which
are permitted under a schools limited open forum and are not directly related
to the school curriculum.
The term "noninstructional time" means time set aside by the school
before actual classroom instruction begins or after actual classroom instruction
It is the intent of this policy to recognize that schools may offer a release
time for students to leave the public school facilities for off-site instruction,
including religious instruction.
Any school may provide a designated time during the school week for students
to leave the public school facilities in order to obtain off-site instruction,
which may include religious instruction.
Students shall not be required to attend off-site religious instruction, nor
may students be required to leave the public school facilities during the
designated time of this off-site instruction.
Any religious instruction that occurs during the release time shall not be
on school premises, shall not be conducted by school personnel, and no academic
credit shall be given for such instruction.
of School Facilities
It is the intent of this policy to recognize that school facilities are often
made available for noncurriculum-related purposes to students as well as to
nonstudents, and it is further the intent of this policy that such use shall
be offered on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.
Any school which makes available use of its facilities to any nonstudent as
a meeting place before or after the official school day shall offer use of
the school facilities on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis without regard
to the content of the requested meeting.
Any school which offers use of its facilities to any nonstudent may charge
a rental or use fee so long as such rental or use fee is required for any
meeting requested by any nonstudent on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis
without regard to the content of the requested meeting.
Notwithstanding any use made available to any nonstudent, the school may prohibit
continued use of the school as a meeting place to any nonstudent if there
is particularized evidence to show that the nonstudent user has and will continue
to cause disruption or violence to the ordinary operation of the school.
The request made by a student to use school facilities as a meeting place
during school hours shall be governed by Section E of this policy relating
to Student Clubs.
If any provision of this policy or the application thereof to any person or
circumstances is judicially determined to be invalid, the provisions of the
remainder of the section and the application to other persons or circumstances
shall not be affected thereby.
SCHOOL BOARD POLICY REGARDING
Music, Art, Drama, and Literature
A and B of the policy are taken verbatim from the Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals case of Florey v. Sioux Falls School District 49-5, 619 F.2d
1311 (8th Cir.), cert. denied 449 U.S. 987 (1980). This Eighth Circuit
Court of Appeals case found that the policy as outlined in Sections A and
B was constitutional. The United States Supreme Court denied review and therefore
this case establishes the most authoritative ruling on this policy regarding
symbols, music, art, drama, and literature. Sections A and B are also supported
by the United States Supreme Court decision in School District of Abington
Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).
Literature Distribution and Clothing
C is supported by several cases. Foremost is the United States Supreme Court
decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S.
503 (1969). This was the landmark decision regarding free speech rights on
public school campuses. The test for limiting student free speech is taken
almost verbatim from the Tinker case and is outlined in Section C2.
As it relates to the distribution of religious literature, several federal
court cases have been used to outline this portion of the policy. Rivera
v. East Otero School District R-1, 721 F. Supp. 1189 (D. Colo. 1989) and
Burch v. Barker, 861 F.2d 1149 (9th Cir. 1988).
D pertaining to graduation ceremonies is based upon the United States Supreme
Court ruling in Lee v. Weisman, 112 S. Ct. 2649 (1992). Section D1
essentially states the ruling of the Lee decision. The remainder of
Section D is based upon the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Jones
v. Clear Creek Independent Schools, 977 F.2d 963 (5th Cir. 1992), cert.
denied, 113 S. Ct. 2950 (1993). This case cites Lee v. Weisman
and outlines an exception as it relates to student prayer. Section D also
utilizes the case of Verbena United Methodist Church v. Chilton County
Board of Education, 765 F. Supp. 704 (M.D. Ala. 1991). In this particular
case involving the rental of school facilities to outside organizations for
the purpose of conducting graduation services, there would be no constitutional
concerns as raised in Lee v. Weisman. To prohibit such activities could
be construed as a violation of free speech rights. The alternative section
regarding graduation ceremonies is based on the cases of Harris v. Joint
School District No. 241, 821 Supp. 638 (D. Idaho 1993) and Adler v.
Duval County School Board, 851 F. Supp. 446 (M.D. Fla. 1994).
E deals with the federal law known as the Equal Access Act found at 20 U.S.C.
4071-74. The Equal Access Act was upheld by the United States Supreme Court
in Board of Education v. Mergens, 110 S. Ct. 2356 (1990).
F pertaining to release time is governed by the United States Supreme Court
decision in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). Other cases used
for this section include Lanner v. Wimmer, 662 F.2d 1349 (10th Cir.
1981), Doe v. Shenandoah County School Board, 737 F. Supp. 913 (W.D.
Va. 1990), and Minnesota Federation of Teachers v. Nelson, 740 F. Supp.
694 (D. Minn. 1990).
of School Facilities
G pertaining to use of public school facilities is governed by the United
States Supreme Court decision in Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union
Free School District, 113 S. Ct. 2141 (1993). This is the landmark United
States Supreme Court case holding that use of school facilities must be offered
on a nondiscriminatory basis even if the requester is a religious organization.
The section dealing with rental value is governed by Fairfax Covenant Church
v. Fairfax County School Board, 811 F. Supp. 1137 (E.D. Va. 1993), which
ruled that a school may not require higher rent of a religious organization
for use of its school facilities than as required of secular organizations.
Information contained herein in not intended to render legal advice. Factual
and legal issues may arise that must be considered in each circumstance. If
legal advice is necessary, the services of a competent attorney should be