Religion and Schools

Religion and Schools

One of the most hotly debated - and most frequently misunderstood - concerns involving religion in America is the issue of prayer in school. Ever since the Supreme Court held school-sponsored prayer unconstitutional in the early 1960s, there has been a concerted and well-funded campaign to reintroduce religion in public schools. Public schools themselves should not be in the business of promoting particular religious beliefs or religious activities and they should protect children from being coerced by others to accept religious (or anti-religious) beliefs. More

At the same time, students’ rights of religious exercise and expression cannot be ignored. There are times when religion at school is appropriate. Students’ rights to pray voluntarily and express themselves religiously are intrinsically important.

The ACLU works to protect public school students’ religious freedom by curbing the practice of school-sponsored religion and ensuring that students may freely express and exercise their faith. We also defend students' free speech rights in the public schools and students' rights to pray in the schools. Additionally, whenever a teacher allows children to choose their own topics for an assignment (such as which book to read or which topic to study for a presentation), students may choose religious themes and the ACLU has protected their right to do so.

Children's religious education should be directed primarily by parents, families, and religious communities, not the public schools.


"Saving Souls" (2012 resource): Creationists have stepped up tactics and propaganda in the U.S. to promote religion in public schools. ACLU staff attorney, Heather Weaver, assesses the damage.

Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief: Government-Funded Religion (2006 resource) : In the past, the government has allowed taxpayer funds to be used for religious discrimination through so-called "faith-based initiatives" that grant religious social service providers — who have long provided admirable and essential services to America's communities — the right to discriminate, proselytize and play by different rules than other charities while spending tax dollars.

ACLU Position Statement on "Creation-science" (2002 resource): In 1980, the Board of Directors further clarified this policy by stating, "ACLU also opposes the inculcation of religious doctrines even if they are presented as alternatives to scientific theories." "Creation science" in all its guises, for example "abrupt appearance theory" or "intelligent design theory", is just such religious doctrine. 

Constitutional Amendment on School Prayer (2002 resource)

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The Establishment Clause and the Schools: A Legal Bulletin (2002 resource)

Constitutional Amendment on School Prayer (2002 resource)

What the Scientific Community Says about Evolution and Intelligent Design (2005 resource)

ACLU-TN Lawsuit Charges Widespread Religious Activities In Sumner County Schools (2011 press release)

Your Right to Religious Freedom (2003 resource)

ACLU-NM Distributes Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty in Public Schools (2011 press release)

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