Separation of Church and State: A First Amendment Primer
Separation: Good for Government, Good for Religion
Violations of the Separation of Church and State
Public Schools: Teaching Democracy, Not Dogma
Violations of Church-State Separation in Our Public Schools
What You Can Do

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Separation of Church and State:
A First Amendment Primer
Public Schools: Teaching Democracy, Not Dogma

Public schools play a central role in American life. They mold children into good citizens by teaching the core values of pluralistic democracy: freedom and tolerance. Our public schools must therefore be hospitable to students of all faiths and no faith. Public schools should teach an understanding of and respect for diversity, as well as a spirit of acceptance and inclusion. They should also help develop citizens who respect our nation's legacy of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Public school teachers rightly function as important authority figures in the lives of their students. But, under the Constitution, their authority may not extend to matters of religious belief. According to the Supreme Court, the First Amendment requires that public school students never be given the impression that their school officially sanctions religion in general or prefers a specific faith in particular. Further, students must never feel coerced by peer or public pressure into adhering to the dictates of any religion.

Contrary to the claims of opponents of church-state separation, public school students enjoy very broad rights to act in accordance with their religious values and to practice their religious beliefs while at school. From words of grace whispered quietly before a meal in a cafeteria to prayer groups gathering before school at the flagpole, every day all over the country, students engage in constitutionally protected religious expression on public school grounds.

Despite the Supreme Court's clear rules against school sponsorship of religious activity and endorsement of religion, the religious right and others opposed to the separation of church and state have repeatedly attempted to inject sectarianism into the schools. For example, they have consistently sought laws mandating a moment of silence and the teaching of the biblical account of creation as an alternative to science. Imposition of an organized moment of silence is almost always unconstitutional since both the purpose and effect of a moment of silence are plainly to advance religion. Further, the Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to require science teachers to teach creationism or to forbid them from teaching evolution.

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