It happens all the time. Teachers, coaches, and other public school administrators are told, in short, that they cannot express their faith in the workplace. Liberty Institute’s client, Coach Joe Kennedy, ran into that mantra this fall—and with the help of skilled attorneys he is pushing back to secure his lawful rights.
But others have been misled. Thanks to the deluge of misinformation being fed to students, teachers, and government employees, many teachers believe they must forfeit their freedom of religious expression while at work.
This is not the case.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions, other court precedent, and federal and state laws grant broad religious liberty rights to students andteachers in public school.
If you are a teacher facing religious discrimination or undue restrictions, know you are not alone. Others—including clients of Liberty Institute like Walt Tutka and Joe Kennedy—have fought and are fighting for their constitutional, legally protected religious liberty rights.
If you are a teacher concerned for your individual religious rights and the rights of your students, these are the facts you must know.
This article is taken in part from our new Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers. Click here to read the free, full version.
FAQ: TEACHERS’ GUIDE TO RELIGIOUS RIGHTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOL
1. Can a teacher express his or her faith during the workday and in public forums?
Short Answer: For the most part, yes, you have a right to express your faith during these times.
Legal Answer: The Supreme Court of the United States clearly articulated that “First Amendment rights, applied in light of special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.) Click here to see more details and the case precedent for this answer.
2. Can an employer discriminate against a teacher based on religion?
Short Answer: No, your employer cannot discriminate against you.
Legal Answer: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . . .” Under this law, your employer cannot take any negative action against you because you are religious. Specifically, if other teachers are allowed to discuss various topics in the employee-only areas of the school, a school official cannot reprimand you for speaking about your faith there, unless it proves disruptive to the operation of the school. If teachers are allowed to wear jewelry, then you have a right to wear a cross to school without being required to hide it. Click here to see the case precedent for this answer.
3. Can a teacher hold employee prayer groups or Bible studies on campus?
Short Answer: Generally, yes, you have a right to hold employee religious meetings on campus.
Legal Answer: If the school allows teachers to meet during noninstructional
time in school facilities for various social purposes, such as meeting for social
organizations or conversations on any topic, then the school is prohibited from barring the use of school facilities for employee-only prayer groups during non-instructional time. However, if the school policy prohibits all “non-business related activity” in a particular room and does not use the room for multiple purposes, it can probably exclude employee prayer groups from that room.
According to the Department of Education, “before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activity.” Likewise, if the school allows outside groups or individuals to use school facilities for meetings, then the school must give teachers the same access to school facilities for Bible study. Click here to see the case precedent for this answer.
4. Can a teacher participate in baccalaureate ceremonies?
Short Answer: Yes, you have a right to participate in these ceremonies.
Legal Answer: Educators have the right to attend and participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies. The Department of Education issued specific guidelines making this clear to all school district in the United States. Click here to see the case precedent for this answer.
WHY STUDENTS AND TEACHERS NEED TO KNOW THEIR RIGHTS
“Knowledge of your rights breeds confidence.”
Students and teachers often don’t practice their faith in public schools because they believe it is illegal to do so. Others fear opposition within the schools and by activist legal groups.
This is tragic and unnecessary. It’s tragic because religious influence in school is needed more than ever. Crime and suicide rates are rising in our schools while academic scores and career readiness are falling.
The information in Liberty Institute’s new Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers addresses these problems. Knowledge of your rights—and the fact that lawyers are available to protect your rights—breeds confidence. It can empower students and teachers to exercise faith without fear.
Imagine what that could mean.Imagine an America where public school students do routinely pray, read Scripture, and openly express their faith in schools without fear of opposition by school authorities. Imagine an America where public schools and teachers are allowed to protect faith as a daily, positive aspect of student life. Imagine public schools where vibrant religious influence—spread from student to student—dramatically cuts the rates of drug abuse, crime, out-of-wedlock births, suicide, and falling academic scores and decisively begins to restore moral order.
Students’ lives can change as religious liberty and religious influence spreads. Teachers will become more confident and effective when equipped with the knowledge of their rights. Schools can change for the better if they will accept, and even embrace, freedom of religious expression. Communities and society can improve as fewer students are trapped in destructive behavior and more graduate to contribute to our free society.
In short, religious freedom in education can change America—countering the current moral erosion and creating a brighter future for the coming generation.
About First Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit FirstLiberty.org.