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Introduction
Background: Religious Liberty in America
Prayer in Public School
Religion in the Curriculum
Evolution vs. Creationism
Teaching About Religious Holidays
Religious Displays on School Property
Released Time Programs
Student Religious Clubs
Use of School Facilities by Outside Religious Organizations and Clubs
Distribution of Religious Materials by Students
Distribution of Religious Material and Proselytizing by Non-school Personnel
Dress Codes
Teachers' Religious Expression
ADL Can Help
Education  
Religion in the Public Schools RULE
Teachers' Religious Expression

General Rule: Public schools must maintain religious neutrality and public school teachers, who are the employees and agents of the public schools, must not interfere with this objective. To this end, teachers may not participate in religious activities or advocate particular religious views when they are teaching or counseling students or acting as representatives of the school. However, in circumstances where students are not present (e. g., in a faculty lunchroom), teachers are afforded the same rights as any government employee (see ADL's Religious Accommodation in the Workplace booklet).

May teachers share their religious views with students? No. Teachers should avoid sharing their personal religious views with students, particularly those in the lower grades. If a teacher's religious views become the subject of discussion, the teacher must make clear that he or she is in no way encouraging students to adopt those views. Students must never be encouraged to accept or conform to specific religious beliefs or practices. The Constitution requires governmental agencies to see that state-supported activity -- such as a classroom -- is not used for religious indoctrination. 84 Thus, a school district can direct a teacher to "refrain from expressions of religious viewpoints in the classroom and like settings." 85 And in fact the school corporation has a constitutional duty to make "certain, given the Religion Clauses, that subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion." 86 Courts have held that public school officials have the authority to prevent teachers from giving students and others the impression that the school prefers a particular religion, or religion in general. 87

May teachers wear religious symbols or clothing to school? Some courts have held that state statutes restricting teachers from wearing certain clothing are constitutional. These statutes are justified in order to preserve an atmosphere of religious neutrality and prevent an appearance of endorsement of religion in public schools. However, even under such statutes, teachers are permitted to wear decoration such as necklaces bearing crosses or Stars of David, which some courts regarded as religiously "ambiguous." Without such a statute, a teacher's religious garb may still violate the prohibition on government endorsement of religion and should still be banned. 88

May teachers or other school personnel lead or participate in activities of religious organizations held at their school during non-school hours? Yes, as long as such involvement is undertaken in their capacity as individuals rather than representatives of the school and the state. Great care must be taken by all parties to assure those who may view the teacher's activity that the school and government are not endorsing the activity. (See prior section on "Use of School Facilities By Outside Religious Organizations.")

Sample Scenario:

    Fourth-grader Asks Teacher About Her Cross Necklace
    Mrs. Carlson, a fourth grade teacher, wears a small cross necklace visible to her students. One of her students, Eric, notices the cross and asks her what it symbolizes. Mrs. Carlson responds: "I wear it as a symbol that Jesus died for our sins." Eric tells his parents that his teacher taught him that Jesus died for his sins. Eric's parents complain to Mrs. Carlson.

    Was Mrs. Carlson correct to respond as she did?
    No. While teachers may wear symbols of their faith, Mrs. Carlson should not have shared tenets of her religion with Eric. It would have been sufficient to say that the cross is an important symbol of her religion.

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