Religious Freedom Goes to School: The Pop Quiz

What is your Religious Freedom I.Q.? Are you prepared to recognize religious freedom violations in your public schools? Test your knowledge by answering the questions below and comparing your responses to the explanations that follow. And, if you have experienced some of the violations detailed below or other potential religious freedom violations, don’t forget to share your story with us here!

1. A teacher leads her kindergarten class in prayer every day before lunch. Several parents believe that they, not the government, should direct their children’s religious education and worship. They object to the teacher-led prayer. The teacher instead picks a new student each day to lead the prayer. Kindergarteners selected to lead the prayer may decline to do so if they do not feel comfortable. The prayer:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The prayer violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, public school officials cannot lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students, or organize, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer. By designating a student to lead a lunchtime prayer each day, the teacher is impermissibly coordinating and promoting prayer in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Allowing students to opt out of leading the prayer or allowing them to leave the room during the lunchtime prayer does not make the prayer permissible. Forcing students in this situation to make that choice is unfair and does not present a real choice, especially for younger students, who are unlikely to want to defy their teachers or make themselves stand out in a way that the teacher and other students may perceive negatively. Students of any age are permitted to engage in lunchtime prayer on their own or together, provided that they do not cause a disruption. But teachers may not be involved in any way.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The prayer violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, public school officials cannot lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students, or organize, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer. By designating a student to lead a lunchtime prayer each day, the teacher is impermissibly coordinating and promoting prayer in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Allowing students to opt out of leading the prayer or allowing them to leave the room during the lunchtime prayer does not make the prayer permissible. Forcing students in this situation to make that choice is unfair and does not present a real choice, especially for younger students, who are unlikely to want to defy their teachers or make themselves stand out in a way that the teacher and other students may perceive negatively. Students of any age are permitted to engage in lunchtime prayer on their own or together, provided that they do not cause a disruption. But teachers may not be involved in any way.

 

2. A school-day assembly features a youth minister who preaches to students and a rock band that performs religious songs. Several atheist students do not feel comfortable attending the assembly because it will include prayer and promote religion. They are told that they can watch a movie instead. The assembly:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The assembly violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. The separation of church and state means that our government cannot favor one faith over others or religion over non-religion. Under the U.S. Constitution, public school officials cannot preach or promote religious beliefs to students. They cannot get around this constitutional prohibition by inviting outside individuals or groups to preach or promote religious beliefs to students as part of school events. Schools also cannot get around this constitutional prohibition by allowing students to opt out of school events that feature prayer or preaching. The right to believe in no faith at all is just as vital a part of our constitutional protections as the right to religious exercise, and public schools may not make non-believers feel like outcasts.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The assembly violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. The separation of church and state means that our government cannot favor one faith over others or religion over non-religion. Under the U.S. Constitution, public school officials cannot preach or promote religious beliefs to students. They cannot get around this constitutional prohibition by inviting outside individuals or groups to preach or promote religious beliefs to students as part of school events. Schools also cannot get around this constitutional prohibition by allowing students to opt out of school events that feature prayer or preaching. The right to believe in no faith at all is just as vital a part of our constitutional protections as the right to religious exercise, and public schools may not make non-believers feel like outcasts.

 

3. A Muslim student wants to read the Q’uran to herself during recess. The school principal forbids it because Islam promotes religious beliefs different than his own. The principal’s decision:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The principal’s decision violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Students of all faiths – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or of some other belief system – have the right to read their religious texts or pray during non-instructional free time (e.g., recess or lunch) provided that they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students. Religious freedom means that students of all faiths – or no faith – can hold and exercise their beliefs without suffering discrimination by school officials because of those beliefs. Public school officials may not discriminate against students on the basis of their religion and may not deny students their religious exercise rights simply because they disagree with a particular student’s religious beliefs.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The principal’s decision violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Students of all faiths – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or of some other belief system – have the right to read their religious texts or pray during non-instructional free time (e.g., recess or lunch) provided that they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students. Religious freedom means that students of all faiths – or no faith – can hold and exercise their beliefs without suffering discrimination by school officials because of those beliefs. Public school officials may not discriminate against students on the basis of their religion and may not deny students their religious exercise rights simply because they disagree with a particular student’s religious beliefs.

 

4. Members of the basketball team decide to gather in the locker room before each game to pray. Coaches and school officials do not have any role in organizing the prayer, and they do not participate in it. The prayer:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The prayer is permissible under the U.S Constitution. Our Constitution prohibits public school officials from leading students in prayer, participating in prayer with students, or organizing, directing, or encouraging students to engage in prayer. But students may decide, on their own, to pray individually or together during non-instructional free time (e.g., recess or lunch) or in connection with a school event, provided that they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The prayer is permissible under the U.S Constitution. Our Constitution prohibits public school officials from leading students in prayer, participating in prayer with students, or organizing, directing, or encouraging students to engage in prayer. But students may decide, on their own, to pray individually or together during non-instructional free time (e.g., recess or lunch) or in connection with a school event, provided that they do not cause a disruption or interfere with the education of other students.

 

5. Twice a year, school officials allow a local religious group to come into class during the homeroom period to hand out Bibles to students. Students who do not want to accept a Bible may remain seated when their row is called to the front of the room. The Bible distribution:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The Bible distribution violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Public school officials may not allow outside groups to enter classrooms to hand out religious materials or Bibles, even if students who do not want a Bible are permitted to remain seated. In South Carolina, public schools may, under some circumstances, allow outside groups (both religious and non-religious) to provide materials to be picked up by students at a designated location within the school. However, the school must put in place appropriate safeguards to ensure that students are not coerced into accepting materials and do not view the school as endorsing the materials.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The Bible distribution violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Public school officials may not allow outside groups to enter classrooms to hand out religious materials or Bibles, even if students who do not want a Bible are permitted to remain seated. In South Carolina, public schools may, under some circumstances, allow outside groups (both religious and non-religious) to provide materials to be picked up by students at a designated location within the school. However, the school must put in place appropriate safeguards to ensure that students are not coerced into accepting materials and do not view the school as endorsing the materials.

 

6. Before the kickoff for every football game, an announcer asks audience members to bow their heads and then delivers a prayer over the loudspeaker. The prayer:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The prayer violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. The Establishment Clause bars public schools from promoting religion. Thus, public school officials cannot lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students, or organize, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer. This includes incorporating prayer – whether led by school staff, students, or third parties – into school activities such as athletic events, awards ceremonies, concerts, etc. By making pregame prayer an official or unofficial part of the football game program, the school violates the U.S. Constitution.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The prayer violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. The Establishment Clause bars public schools from promoting religion. Thus, public school officials cannot lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students, or organize, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer. This includes incorporating prayer – whether led by school staff, students, or third parties – into school activities such as athletic events, awards ceremonies, concerts, etc. By making pregame prayer an official or unofficial part of the football game program, the school violates the U.S. Constitution.

 

7. A high school allows student clubs (e.g., the Chess Club, the Volunteer Club) to form and meet at lunchtime. When a group of Christian students asks to start a club, school officials reject the request because they say they do not have enough room for another club to meet at lunch. The decision:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The decision violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. If a public high school allows students to form student clubs, it must allow students to form religious clubs, if they so desire. The school must also provide the same resources to those students that other clubs receive. These clubs can be formed by students of any faith, and non-believers also have a right to form their own student clubs.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The decision violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. If a public high school allows students to form student clubs, it must allow students to form religious clubs, if they so desire. The school must also provide the same resources to those students that other clubs receive. These clubs can be formed by students of any faith, and non-believers also have a right to form their own student clubs.

 

8. After presenting a lesson on evolution (as required by the state science standards), a biology teacher discusses her belief that evolution cannot be true because it conflicts with the Bible’s creation story. She then presents a brief video about the theory of intelligent design. The teacher’s discussion and video:

> Are permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The teacher’s discussion and video violate religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Creationism and intelligent design are religious doctrines. Public school officials cannot preach or promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Discussing or teaching about creationism or intelligent design in science class, however briefly, only serves to undermine sound science education about evolution and has been repeatedly rejected by our courts as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

> Violate religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The teacher’s discussion and video violate religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Creationism and intelligent design are religious doctrines. Public school officials cannot preach or promote their personal religious beliefs to students. Discussing or teaching about creationism or intelligent design in science class, however briefly, only serves to undermine sound science education about evolution and has been repeatedly rejected by our courts as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

 

9. A high school holds a vote each year on whether to have prayer at graduation. If students vote in favor of prayer, they are allowed to select the prayergiver. The prayergiver’s prayer may refer only to God generally. The prayer may not refer to Jesus or the Bible, or include any language that is specific to any particular faith. The prayer:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The prayer at graduation violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Public school officials cannot lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students, or organize, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer. Coordinating and holding a vote on whether to have graduation prayer is itself a violation of religious freedom and indicates school endorsement of prayer. Students should not be forced to make this choice and they should not be forced to sit through a school-endorsed prayer in order to attend this important event. It does not matter that the prayer is generic and only refers to God. In the public school context, officially sponsored prayer of any type is clearly prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The prayer at graduation violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Public school officials cannot lead students in prayer, participate in prayer with students, or organize, direct, or encourage students to engage in prayer. Coordinating and holding a vote on whether to have graduation prayer is itself a violation of religious freedom and indicates school endorsement of prayer. Students should not be forced to make this choice and they should not be forced to sit through a school-endorsed prayer in order to attend this important event. It does not matter that the prayer is generic and only refers to God. In the public school context, officially sponsored prayer of any type is clearly prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

 

10. After a local tragedy, a school posts a copy of the Ten Commandments in its main hallway to remind students to act morally. The Ten Commandments display:

> Is permissible under the U.S. Constitution

Wrong! The Ten Commandments display violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause, public schools may not promote religious beliefs. As a result, public schools generally may not display religious symbols and religious doctrine. The Ten Commandments are Biblical scripture containing religious tenets and commanding adherents to follow religious rules. Displaying the Ten Commandments for the purpose of encouraging students to follow that Biblical doctrine violates students’ religious freedom rights.

> Violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution

Correct! The Ten Commandments display violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause, public schools may not promote religious beliefs. As a result, public schools generally may not display religious symbols and religious doctrine. The Ten Commandments are Biblical scripture containing religious tenets and commanding adherents to follow religious rules. Displaying the Ten Commandments for the purpose of encouraging students to follow that Biblical doctrine violates students’ religious freedom rights.

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