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Loudoun County Public Schools , the 4th U.

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Circuit Court of Appeals upheld recitation of the pledge in Virginia, but a U. However, the 9th U. Circuit Court of Appeals in reversed the district court decision, ruling that the recitation of the pledge did not constitute an establishment of religion. The courts have drawn a sharp distinction between officially sponsored religious speech, such as a benediction by an invited clergyman at a commencement ceremony, and private religious speech by students. The Supreme Court made clear in Lee v.

Judges usually reach that same conclusion when school officials cooperate with students to produce student-delivered religious messages. But federal courts are more divided in cases involving students acting on their own to include a religious sentiment or prayer at a school commencement or a similar activity. Some courts, particularly in the South, have upheld the constitutionality of student-initiated religious speech, emphasizing the private origins of this kind of religious expression.

As long as school officials did not encourage or explicitly approve the contents, those courts have upheld religious content in student commencement speeches. In Adler v. Duval County School Board , for example, the 11th U. Circuit Court of Appeals approved a system at a Florida high school in which the senior class, acting independently of school officials, selected a class member to deliver a commencement address. School officials neither influenced the choice of speaker nor screened the speech.

Under those circumstances, the appeals court ruled that the school was not responsible for the religious content of the address. Other courts, however, have invalidated school policies that permit student speakers to include religious sentiments in graduation addresses. One leading case is ACLU v.

The 3rd U. Circuit Court of Appeals nevertheless ruled that the high school could not permit religious content in the commencement speech. The court reasoned that students attending the graduation ceremony were as coerced to acquiesce in a student-led prayer as they would be if the prayer were offered by a member of the clergy, the practice forbidden by Weisman in Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Similarly, in Bannon v. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Florida school officials were right to order the removal of student-created religious messages and symbols from a school beautification project.

Courts have long grappled with attempts by school boards and other official bodies to change the curriculum in ways that directly promote or denigrate a particular religious tradition. Opponents favor teaching some form of creationism, the idea that life came about as described in the biblical book of Genesis or evolved under the guidance of a supreme being.

A recent alternative to Darwinism, intelligent design, asserts that life is too complex to have arisen without divine intervention.

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Lower courts consistently have followed the lead of Epperson and Edwards. As a result, school boards have lost virtually every fight over curriculum changes designed to challenge evolution, including disclaimers in biology textbooks. One of the most recent and notable of these cases, Kitzmiller v. After lengthy testimony from both proponents and opponents of intelligent design, a federal district court in Pennsylvania concluded that the policy violates the Establishment Clause because intelligent design is a religious, rather than scientific, theory.

Kitzmiller may have been the last major evolution case to make national headlines, but the debate over how to teach about the origins and development of life in public schools has continued in state legislatures, boards of education and other public bodies. Courts have also expended substantial time and energy considering public school programs that involve Bible study. Although the Supreme Court has occasionally referred to the permissibility of teaching the Bible as literature, some school districts have instituted Bible study programs that courts have found unconstitutional.

Frequently, judges have concluded that these courses are thinly disguised efforts to teach a particular understanding of the New Testament. In a number of these cases, school districts have brought in outside groups to run the Bible study program. The groups, in turn, hired their own teachers, in some cases Bible college students or members of the clergy who did not meet state accreditation standards.

Such Bible study programs have generally been held unconstitutional because, the courts conclude, they teach the Bible as religious truth or are designed to inculcate particular religious sentiments. For a public school class to study the Bible without violating constitutional limits, the class would have to include critical rather than devotional readings and allow open inquiry into the history and content of biblical passages.

Christmas-themed music programs also have raised constitutional concerns. The schools also must be sensitive to the possibility that some students will feel coerced to participate in the program Bauchman v. West High School, 10th U. Circuit Court of Appeals, ; Doe v. Duncanville Independent School District, 5th Circuit, Moreover, the courts have said, no student should be forced to sing or play music that offends their religious sensibilities.

Therefore, schools must allow students the option not to participate. Not all the cases involving religion in the curriculum concern the promotion of the beliefs of the majority. Indeed, challenges have come from Christian groups arguing that school policies discriminate against Christianity by promoting cultural pluralism. In one example, the 2nd U. Circuit Court of Appeals considered a New York City Department of Education policy regulating the types of symbols displayed during the holiday seasons of various religions. The department allows the display of a menorah as a symbol for Hanukkah and a star and crescent to evoke Ramadan but permits the display of only secular symbols of Christmas, such as a Christmas tree; it explicitly forbids the display of a Christmas nativity scene in public schools.

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Klein that city officials intended to promote cultural pluralism in the highly diverse setting of the New York City public schools. The judicial panel ruled that the policy, therefore, did not promote Judaism or Islam and did not denigrate Christianity. In another high-profile case, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum v.

Ordinarily, opponents of homosexuality could not confidently cite the Establishment Clause as the basis for a complaint, because the curriculum typically would not advance a particular religious perspective. However, the Montgomery County curriculum included materials in teacher guides that disparaged some religious teachings on homosexuality as theologically flawed and contrasted those teachings with what the guide portrayed as the more acceptable and tolerant views of some other faiths.

The district court concluded that the curriculum had both the purpose and effect of advancing certain faiths while denigrating the beliefs of others. The county rewrote these materials to exclude any reference to the views of particular faiths, making them more difficult to challenge successfully in court because the lessons did not condemn or praise any faith tradition. At the time of its school prayer decisions in the early s, the Supreme Court had never ruled on whether students have the right of free speech inside public schools.


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By the end of that decade, however, the court began to consider the question. And the results have made the rules for religious expression far more complex. The court ruled that school authorities may not suppress expression by students unless the expression significantly disrupts school discipline or invades the rights of others.

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Some school officials responded to the mix of student liberties and restraints by forbidding certain forms of student-initiated religious expression such as the saying of grace before lunch in the school cafeteria, student-sponsored gatherings for prayer at designated spots on school property, or student proselytizing aimed at other students.

Department of Education sent to every public school superintendent in The department revised the guidelines in , placing somewhat greater emphasis on the rights of students to speak or associate for religious purposes. The guidelines highlight these four general principles:. A case decided by the 9th U. Circuit Court of Appeals underscores the difficulties that school officials still can face when students exercise their right to religious expression on school property.

In this case, gay and lesbian students in a California high school organized a Day of Silence, in which students promoting tolerance of differences in sexual orientation refrained from speaking in school.

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The Court of Appeals, in Harper v. He concluded that the T-shirt could be seen as violating school policies against harassment based on sexual orientation. By permitting the Gay and Lesbian Alliance to conduct the Day of Silence, Kozinski said, the district was choosing sides on a controversial social issue and stifling religiously motivated speech on one side of the issue. Harper petitioned the Supreme Court to review the appeals court decision. But Harper graduated from high school, and the case took a different turn. The Supreme Court, in early , ordered the lower court to vacate its ruling and dismiss the case on the grounds that it had become moot.

Harper highlighted a tension — one that may yet recur — between the rights of students to engage in religious expression and the rights of other students to be educated in a non-hostile environment. For now, cases like Harper illustrate the difficulties for school officials in regulating student expression.

Parents sometimes complain that secular practices at school inhibit their right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. When they object to certain school practices, the parents often seek permission for their children to skip the offending lesson or class — to opt out — rather than try to end the practice schoolwide.