FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 8, 2011
CONTACT: Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director, (615) 320-7142
NASHVILLE – With a new school year beginning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) sent out their “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools – A Guide for Administrators and Teachers” to public school superintendents across the state. The brochure outlines which religious activities in public schools are and are not permissible based on Federal Court decisions and the guarantees of the Establishment, Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment.
“While these rules may seem clear and straightforward, educators often struggle to understand how these requirements interrelate and how they apply to specific circumstances. This is especially true when the majority of students and community members belong to the same faith tradition,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “While school systems often conclude that the school’s treatment of religion should favor the majority’s interest, the Bill of Rights protects minority rights as they relate to religious activities in public schools.”
In an attempt to clarify the confusion surrounding religion in public schools, ACLU-TN prepared the guide to provide public school administrators and teachers with constitutionally-sound guidelines regarding religious activities in public schools.
As the letter accompanying the guide explains, “the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains three important clauses that protect individuals from government interference with their religious beliefs:
- The Establishment Clause says that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…’ This clause prohibits public schools and their employees from endorsing or encouraging religion in any way.
- The Free Exercise Clause says that ‘Congress shall make no law….prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).’ This clause ensures that students are free to exercise their religious beliefs free from government coercion or interference as long as they do not disrupt educational activities.
- Finally, the Free Speech Clause says that ‘Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech.’ This clause means that school officials are required to allow students to express their religious beliefs, within certain guidelines.”
ACLU-TN’s letter underscores that “each of these provisions applies to and governs the conduct of all public schools and their staff in Tennessee.”
“Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools – A Guide for Administrators and Teachers” can be found here.
The letter accompanying the guide can be found here.