The ACLU vigorously defends the rights of all Americans to practice their religion and express their faith, including public school students. Below are examples of our advocacy over the past decade on behalf of students of a variety of faiths.
The ACLU of Virginia (2011) wrote a letter on behalf of a group of Christian athletes in Floyd County High School after the school removed copies of the Ten Commandments the athletes had displayed on the outside of their personal lockers.
The ACLU of Texas (2011) opposed a school district’s policy prohibiting students from visibly wearing rosaries, crosses, and other articles of faith.
The ACLU of Nebraska (2011) objected to a public school district’s policy barring students from wearing rosaries.
The ACLU of Colorado (2010) opposed a public school’s policy that barred students from wearing crosses and rosaries in public view.
The ACLU of New Jersey (2010) submitted an amicus brief in support of a public school student’s right to express her religious beliefs about abortion by wearing an armband with the word “LIFE” on it.
The ACLU of Alaska (2010) advised the Alaska Department of Education to respect the religious freedom of Russian Old Believer families by arranging alternate testing dates for the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, which conflicts with Holy Week for Russian Old Believer students.
The ACLU of Florida (2009) filed a lawsuit against the Alachua County School District because school officials prohibited students—in school and at football games—from wearing t-shirts bearing religious messages, including those that proclaimed the primacy of Christianity and stated that “Islam is of the devil,” even though there was no evidence that the t-shirts had caused a disruption to the educational process.
The ACLU of Virginia (2009) wrote a letter school to a public school in support of students’ right to wear t-shirts encouraging school-sponsored prayer.
The ACLU and ACLU of Texas (2008) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a five-year-old Native American boy who was forced into in-school suspension for wearing long braids as an expression of his religious beliefs and cultural heritage.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania (2007) came to the defense of a second-grade student who, in response to a class assignment to write a story, submitted a story about Easter and redemption. After the teacher rejected the submission because of its religious content, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school on the student’s behalf..
The ACLU of New Jersey (2007) filed an amicus brief in support of an elementary school student who was prohibited from singing “Awesome God” in a voluntary after-school talent show for which students selected their own material.
The ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court against Old Redford Academy, a public charter school in Detroit, for suspending, and trying to expel, a ninth-grade student who wore his hair long in accordance with a verse in Leviticus.
The ACLU of New Jersey (2007) filed a religious discrimination case on behalf of a Muslim student who had to choose between following his religious beliefs that forbid him from entering buildings with foreign religious symbols and attending his public high school graduation that was scheduled to be held in a church. The ACLU argued that the school’s decision unlawfully forced the student to choose between attending his graduation and violating his faith.
The ACLU of Louisiana (2005) successfully represented a Rastafarian mother and her fourth grade son, who was suspended for wearing dreadlocks in accordance with his faith.
The ACLU of Michigan (2004) represented a student whose yearbook entry, a Bible verse, was deleted because of its religious content.
The Iowa Civil Liberties Union (2005) defended the religious expression rights of two teenage girls, who were threatened with punishment by school officials after seeking to wear, for religious reasons, anti-abortion t-shirts to school.
The ACLU of Massachusetts (2003) filed an amicus brief in support of a group of students at Westfield High School who were suspended for distributing candy canes and a religious message in school.
The Iowa Civil Liberties Union (2002) filed an amicus brief supporting a group of Christian students who sued Davenport Schools asserting their right to distribute religious literature during non-instructional time.