Checklist: Freedom of Religion and the Public School System
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The United States was the first country to make religious freedom part of its fundamentallaw. Through the years, the ways in which people may practice and express theirreligious convictions has been refined by cases heard by the Supreme Court. Thisprocess has been particularly common where public schooling and religion intersect--few issues receive so much public and legal attention. This checklist can help youdetermine whether your local public school is engaged in practices that have beenaddressed by the Court.
|___||My public high school starts its graduation ceremonies with a nondenominationalprayer.Even nonsectarian prayer at a public school graduation is unconstitutional. Itviolates the constitutional prohibition on establishment of religion because itinvolves the government (acting through the public school) in a religious activity.Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992).|
|___||My local public school requires the students to observe a "prayerful moment ofsilence" every morning after the Pledge of Allegiance.Even if public school students are given the option of meditating during a momentof silence intended for prayer, requiring such a moment during the school dayviolates the Constitution. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985).|
|___||The state started giving salary "boosters" to teachers at the local religious schools.The government can't get involved in religious education financially; it couldcause government to become entangled in religious matters. Lemon v. Kurtzman,403 U.S. 602 (1971).|
|___||The school district pays for students to get bussed to voluntary monthly religiouseducation programs.Certain expenditures can be made for social policy purposes that don't get thegovernment too involved. For instance, in Everson v. Board of Education, 330U.S. 1 (1947), it was considered acceptable for tax money to go to a bus fareprogram to get students to and from a religious schools.|