Dept. of Education Clarifies Free Speech Rights of Students

Education Secretary Rod Paige has recently issued new guidance documents detailing religious freedom in the public schools. "Public schools should not be hostile to the religious rights of their students and their families," Page wrote in a letter sent to public elementary and secondary schools.

A seven-page document accompanied the letter, stipulating that students' constitutional rights were not to be restricted during non-instructional times. At such times, they must be allowed to read the Bible, say grace before meals, pray, and study religious materials with fellow students.

In reviewing the document, the Christian Law Association concluded that, "Students may even attempt to persuade their peers concerning religious topics as long as such attempts at persuasion do not constitute harassment."

Distribution of religious literature and wearing clothing with religious messages is also allowed to the extent that secular messages are permitted, according to the CLA. In preparing homework or class assignments, students must be allowed to incorporate religious views and beliefs.

The guidance also includes teachers and school administrators. While promoting any religious views is prohibited during official periods of instruction, they are to be free to "meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or non-religious activities."

Bible clubs, prayer groups and gatherings such as the "See You At The Pole" events must be given the same freedom as other non-curricular activities by student groups. Teachers may also participate in an unofficial capacity.

Chick Publications occasionally receives letters from parents of children who have been reprimanded for distributing tracts at school. Usually the school official is unaware of the solid guarantee of free speech that applies even on school campuses.

Usually simply presenting official evidence of these freedoms to school officials will clear up the problem. If further help is needed you can contact the Christian Law Association at 727.399.8300 or visit their web site.

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