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bullet "Referring to the Star of David as a gang symbol is either ignorance or religious intolerance. The decision ... to suppress a heartfelt and legitimate public expression of faith is totally inappropriate." Pat Robertson, 1999-AUG-19
bullet "...state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are 'persons' under our Constitution." U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969)
bullet "[It] can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school-house gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years." Ibid
bullet "Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the school house door." President Clinton, 1995-JUL-12. 1

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Enforcing religious rights:

The constitution both protects and prohibits many religious behaviors in public schools.

bullet Students' rights of free religious expression are not not necessarily automatic given. Some teachers, principals and school boards are not familiar with such legal matters. Sometimes, freedoms have to be fought for.
bullet The same First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees students freedom of religious expression also restricts religious expression by teachers.

Many infringements on a student's religious freedom are clearly unconstitutional, and based on ignorance of the law by the teacher, principal and/or school board. Such disputes are usually resolved when the school is informed of student's rights. Many Christian litigation groups are actively involved in such resolutions. The Rutherford Institute 2 is believed to be the largest such organization. They have stated: "[M]any cases can be solved with a strong and professional letter from an attorney, a legal memorandum from our office, or a phone call from a staff member." Although it is a very conservative Christian group, they occasionally take on cases which support the rights of non-Christians. The American Civil Liberties Union is a secular group that also fights for students' constitutional rights. 3 They have a section of their web sites specifically directed to student concerns. 4

There are signs that the American public is becoming more tolerant of students' religious speech as expressed in their selection of jewelry and clothing. This may be because of:

bullet The reduction in the numbers of adult Americans who identify themselves as Christians. This percentage is dropping about  one percentage point per year recently.
bullet An increase in the numbers of religiously unaffiliated adults.
bullet An increase in the religious diversity. The U.S. is now regarded as the most religiously diverse nation in the world.
bullet The increased variety and membership of minority religions. Wicca, for example, is doubling in size about every 30 months.
bullet Statements by political leaders, largely after 9-11, which have promoted religious tolerance and freedom for religious minorities.

A Dallas-Ft. Worth TV station,, conducted an opinion poll over the Waxahachie, TX case in 2002-AUG. Those who voted were 77% in favor of students being "allowed to wear a pentacle or pentagram to school."

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Topics covered in this section:

bullet Legal aspects and examples of discrimination: Constitutional freedoms and limitations, examples of religious discrimination, gang symbols, pentagrams
bullet List of organizations which deal with religion in the public schools
bullet Statements, mainly by the U.S. Department of Education
bullet Recent school conflicts over student & teacher clothing
bullet Years: 1998 & 1999
bullet Years: 2000 to the present time

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Related essays:

bullet What the Bible says about public prayer
bullet Separation of church and state issues
bullet Recent U.S. court rulings on separation of church and state
bullet The Istook Constitutional Amendment:
bullet Organizations dealing with church/state separation issues
bullet Wicca
bullet The pentagram

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  1. Quoted in "The President Announces Release of Revised Religious
    Guidelines for America's Public Schools,
    " at:
  2. The Rutherford Institute has a web page at: 
  3. The American Civil Liberties Union has a web page at:
  4. "Students' Rights," ACLU Freedom Network, at: 

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Site navigation:

Home page > Christianity > Christian history > Prayer/religion > Schools > here

or: Home page > Law menu > Schools > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written 1999-AUG-20

Last updated 2003-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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