Motivating Public Schools to Welcome Religious Expression

June 2, 2023
Gateways School | First Liberty Institute

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

First Liberty’s victories for religious freedom are having tremendous impact in public schools around the country, inspiring everyday Americans, leaders and organizations to restore faith and religious expression in their communities.

We’re excited to highlight the important work of our friends at Gateways to Better Education. Their organization equips public school educators, leaders, parents and students to protect and promote religious freedom for all students. They also help educators appropriately and legally teach about the Bible and Christianity as it relates to curriculum.

Exciting Initiative

Gateways developed the RESPECT PROJECT, an initiative that focuses on improving student performance by helping teachers understand the value of students’ religious upbringing so they are motivated to support students of all faiths. The organization explains:

“It is important that legal victories won in the courts are acted upon in schools. Being aware that students CAN express their faith at school and welcoming them TO DO SO are two different things. Schools are missing an academic and behavioral asset by not welcoming them to express their faith.”

School districts that participate in the project provide their staff the opportunity to go through a 30-minute online training to:

  • Learn key elements of the U.S. Department of Education Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.
  • Discover the research on the value of students’ religious upbringing as a behavioral and learning asset.
  • Get links to classroom materials and videos teachers can use to appropriately welcome students to express their religious beliefs.

After the staff has completed the training, the district informs all students and their families on the U.S. Department of Education guidance.

Measuring the Impact 

In a recent survey, 469 teachers were asked, “Now that you’ve completed the training, please rank the likelihood you will remind your students they are welcome to express their religious perspectives when it is germane to the topic.” A vast majority—76%—indicated they either will do it (44%) or likely will do it (32%). Only 3% responded “Not likely” and 1% “Won’t.”

School superintendents have given highly positive feedback about the program:

“I am excited to encourage other superintendents to implement the RESPECT PROJECT…We implemented it this year. All the feedback we received from students and faculty was extremely positive. It supports our kids who are dealing with trauma and it dissipates behavior problems. It encourages a sense of well-being. Our goal was to inform them not only on the legal information but to help them emotionally feel like they can be who they are.” — Geri Gilstrap

What’s more, students’ religious faith is an asset for schools. Research shows religion has a positive effect on academic achievement. For example, Dr. William Jeynes of California State University, Long Beach, conducted a meta-analysis of 30 studies involving more than one million students to find the factors that best reduce the achievement gap. The study found, “of all the variables under study for their relationship with reducing the achievement gap, religious faith had the highest effect.”

Researcher Ilana Horwitz of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education also found that “being religious helps adolescents at the middle and high school level because they have learned the very habits that public schools are structured to reward: conscientiousness and cooperation.”

“Religious students benefit because the faith community and the school community both build characteristics that help students’ develop,” Gateways explains. “Both institutions want students to respect authority, be conscientious, cooperative and kind. Both want students to have a sense of purpose in life. It is a benefit to students when they have others outside the school community helping them flourish.”

As First Liberty has previously explained, government cannot and should not coerce any student toward religion. But it also cannot and should not inhibit religious freedom and expression. It’s perfectly legal and constitutional for the government to affirm the value of religious freedom for the many students who already attend religious services and for whom religious faith is important.

Bring the RESPECT PROJECT to Your Schools

The RESPECT PROJECT team is ready to contact the superintendent in your community and introduce the program. Click HERE to learn more. You can also contact Marty Cutrone ( or Ken Harrison ( or call (800) 929-1163.

Restoring Faith in America

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