Schools In Texas Routinely Violate Constitutional Protections For Religious Freedom
ACLU Of Texas Report Details Incidences Of Community Retaliation And Officials’ Refusal To Follow The Law
HOUSTON — The ACLU of Texas Wednesday released a report documenting that school districts all over the state routinely ignore the Constitution when it comes to religious freedom in public schools. Examples are detailed in, “At the Mercy of the Majority: Attacks on Religious Freedom in Texas Public Schools in the Decade afterSanta Fe v. Doe.” Moreover, Texans who complain publicly are often subjected to ridicule and threats.
According to the report, “The ACLU of Texas receives dozens of complaints every year from students, parents, and teachers across Texas reporting that local public schools violate students’ religious freedom in a myriad of ways: prohibiting students from wearing religious attire, injecting sectarian religious views into classroom instruction, and even endorsing and requiring student prayer.
“Yet most of the complainants are afraid of speaking out, even with the Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court on their side. They fear if they go public with their concerns, their children will face retaliation at school. They fear social stigma in their towns. They fear loss of their jobs. They fear violence,” the report concluded.
ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke said, “This detailed report describes some disturbing instances when students’ rights to exercise their religious beliefs have been trampled by dress codes, for example. In other situations, state-employed teachers and administrators have tried to impose their personal religious beliefs on students. That violates parents’ rights to shape children’s beliefs.”
ACLU of Texas Legal & Policy Director Rebecca Robertson said the report shows how some communities turn a blind eye to religious intolerance, with school officials openly flouting the law. She cited the defiance of an administrator who said “over my dead body” when asked about removing a religious banner on display at his school. “As role models, teachers and principals are expected to show respect not only for the Constitution, but for people who may not share their views.” said Robertson. “We depend on school officials to set the tone on campus, promoting tolerance of allreligious views and favoritism for none.”
A positive approach to dealing with religious conflict was described by Rabbi Peter Tarlow of Texas A&M Hillel Foundation who assisted the Navasota school district. “This school district did the right thing and set a responsible example by reaching out to provide diversity training for school officials and personnel at all levels to promote understanding.”
Toni Teel, whose daughter Kynndal, objected to school-imposed religious practice in Kingwood schools, described the harassment to which her daughter and family were subjected: “I was told not to volunteer at the school anymore.” In an atmosphere where school officials targeted the family for retaliation, “My daughter was physically intimidated by fellow students who repeatedly told her what she should believe. This behavior was tolerated, maybe even encouraged, by a coach and some teachers.”
The ACLU of Texas offers several Know-Your-Rights materials for public education relating to religious freedom.
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