In an earlier string on this forum (See You at the Pole), Bill Gray posted the following ignorant and erroneous statement:
“That is the kind of good which can come from such Christian events on campus. And, that is exactly whey [sic] the ACLU and all other atheist organizations are fighting tooth and nail to keep as much Christian activity as possible off school campuses. They know the power of Christians gathered in His name. And, they know the power of our God -- even as they fight to deny Him.”
I believe that it is appropriate to co-opt one of Bill’s favorite forum techniques and begin a new entry on this subject matter. Bill has, in his predictable, knee-jerk manner, lashed out at the ACLU without making an effort to learn the FACTS about where that organization stands on the application of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. I want this post to have higher visibility than it would receive if buried deep within the aforementioned prior post.
With respect to the “See You at the Pole” observances, is a FACT that the ACLU not only does NOT oppose such gatherings; they have listed this particular observance as one that they recognize as entirely legal and constitutional. This, and numerous other forms of student religious behavior and expression are listed on the ACLU’s web site in a document entitled “Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools”. The document is endorsed by the ACLU and numerous religious organizations. Here is just a partial list of permissible activities in the public schools, as listed in the Joint Statement:
<<<<1. Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners. In the classroom students have the right to pray quietly except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them). In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations. However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.
5. Students may be taught about religion, but public schools may not teach religion. As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said, "[i]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion, or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization." It would be difficult to teach art, music, literature and most social studies without considering religious influences.
The history of religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture)-as-literature (either as a separate course or within some other existing course), are all permissible public school subjects. It is both permissible and desirable to teach objectively about the role of religion in the history of theUnited Statesand other countries. One can teach that the Pilgrims came to this country with a particular religious vision, that Catholics and others have been subject to persecution or that many of those participating in the abolitionist, women's suffrage and civil rights movements had religious motivations.
7. Students may express their religious beliefs in the form of reports, homework and artwork, and such expressions are constitutionally protected. Teachers may not reject or correct such submissions simply because they include a religious symbol or address religious themes. Likewise, teachers may not require students to modify, include or excise religious views in their assignments, if germane. These assignments should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance, relevance, appearance and grammar.
9. Students have the right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates, subject to those reasonable time, place, and manner or other constitutionally- acceptable restrictions imposed on the distribution of all non-school literature. Thus, a school may confine distribution of all literature to a particular table at particular times. It may not single out religious literature for burdensome regulation.
11. Student participation in before- or after-school events, such as "see you at the pole," is permissible. School officials, acting in an official capacity, may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event.
12. Students have the right to speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. But school officials should intercede to stop student religious speech if it turns into religious harassment aimed at a student or a small group of students. While it is constitutionally permissible for a student to approach another and issue an invitation to attend church, repeated invitations in the face of a request to stop constitute harassment. Where this line is to be drawn in particular cases will depend on the age of the students and other circumstances.
13. Student religious clubs in secondary schools must be permitted to meet and to have equal access to campus media to announce their meetings, if a school receives federal funds and permits any student non-curricular club to meet during non-instructional time. This is the command of the Equal Access Act. A non-curricular club is any club not related directly to a subject taught or soon-to-be taught in the school. Although schools have the right to ban all non-curriculum clubs, they may not dodge the law's requirement by the expedient of declaring all clubs curriculum-related. On the other hand, teachers may not actively participate in club activities and "non-school persons" may not control or regularly attend club meeting.
The Act's constitutionality has been upheld by the Supreme Court, rejecting claims that the Act violates the Establishment Clause. The Act's requirements are described in more detail in The Equal Access Act and the Public Schools: Questions and Answers on the Equal Access Act*, a pamphlet published by a broad spectrum of religious and civil liberties groups.
15. Schools enjoy substantial discretion to excuse individual students from lessons which are objectionable to that student or to his or her parent on the basis of religion. Schools can exercise that authority in ways which would defuse many conflicts over curriculum content. If it is proved that particular lessons substantially burden a student's free exercise of religion and if the school cannot prove a compelling interest in requiring attendance the school would be legally required to excuse the student.
17. Religious messages on T-shirts and the like may not be singled out for suppression. Students may wear religious attire, such as yarmulkes and head scarves, and they may not be forced to wear gym clothes that they regard, on religious grounds, as immodest.
18. Schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not attend .>>>
The link below includes the full Joint Statement and the lengthy list of religious and secular organizations that have signed on to this statement.>>>>
It is more than appropriate--it is downright necessary--to challenge the all-subsuming indictments of the ACLU made by Bill and other ignorant die-hard right wing extremists. The ACLU and other groups (e.g. Americans United) work to ensure that governments do not control student religious activity or engage in other inappropriate governmental intrusions into religion. That might rankle theocratically-inclined Christian nationists, but Bill and others who erroneously condemn the ACLU do not help their cause by repeatedly making absurd, ignorant blanket statements that mischaracterize the issues!
Read up and get educated: