December 7, 2010
CONTACT: Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, (615) 320-7142
NASHVILLE – Responding to numerous complaints from families about religious holiday activities in Tennessee public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) sent a letter late yesterday to the 137 public school superintendents across the state. The letter reminded school officials that holiday celebrations focusing primarily on one religious holiday amount to a school’s unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
“The founders of the United States believed in the significance of religion. But they also understood that decisions about when and how to practice religion are best left to individuals, families and religious institutions,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “During the holiday season, it is especially important that we all embrace the constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment in order to ensure that religious freedom flourishes.”
The ACLU-TN letter cites several U.S. Supreme Court decisions, explaining that “While public schools can teach about religion and religious holidays, public schools may not engage in indoctrination. Thus comparative religion courses can be taught but endorsing religious doctrine or sponsoring religious activities is unconstitutional.”
The letter further explains, “[ACLU-TN] welcome[s] holiday celebrations that teach children about a variety of holidays. We believe, however, that holiday celebrations that focus primarily on one religious holiday can result in indoctrination as well as a sense within students who do not share that religion of being outsiders to the school.”
ACLU-TN’s recent letter to superintendents, as well as the organization’s “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools – A Guide for Administrators and Teachers,” can be found at https://www.aclu-tn.org/religiousfreedom.htm#resources.