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Joint Statement on Religion

In 1995, a joint statement of current law regarding religion in public schools was published by a variety of religious and civil liberties organizations.

This statement served as the basis for U.S. Department of Education guidelines intended to alleviate concerns about constitutional religious activities in schools.

Here are general rules concerning what school personnel and students may do:

Students have the right to pray or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive.

The history of religion and comparative religion are permissible school subjects so long as the approach is objective and serves a legitimate educational purpose.

Students may study the role of religion in the history of the United States.

Schools may discuss various religious groups‚ beliefs about the origin of life on Earth in comparative religion or social studies classes.

Students may express their religious beliefs in the forms of reports, homework and artwork so long as such expression meets the other criteria of the assignment.

Religious or anti-religious remarks made in the ordinary course of classroom discussion or student presentations and that are germane are permissible, but students do not have the right to give sermons to a captive audience.

Students have the right to distribute religious literature to their classmates, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

Students have the right to speak to, and attempt to persuade their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics.

Student religious clubs in secondary schools must be permitted to meet and to have equal access to campus media to announce their meetings.

Public schools may teach objectively about religious holidays and may celebrate the secular aspects of the holiday.

Students may wear religious messages on clothing, just as they may wear religious attire, such as yarmulkes and head scarves.

Students may be released for religious instruction off school premises.

Students may read the Bible or other religious literature during their free time at school.

Faith groups that support the First Amendment and oppose government-sponsored prayer in public schools include:

National Council of Churches; American Baptist Churches, USA; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); The Episcopal Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Mennonite Central Committee USA; Presbyterian Church (USA); General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists; United Church of Christ; United Methodist Church; Unitarian Universalist Association; American Jewish Congress; Anti-Defamation League; Central Conference of American Rabbis; National Council of Jewish Women; North American Council for Muslim Women; Soka Gakkai International USA.

Most religious denominations, across the theological spectrum, have issued formal statements supporting the Supreme Court’s prayer and Bible-reading decisions. These people of faith value the hard-won freedom of conscience that belongs to all of us.

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