Fast Facts–About Students’ Rights
In general, students have the right to…
● Express their deeply held religious convictions at school. Students have the right to talk about their religious beliefs, pray, read Scripture and invite other classmates to join them in these activities as long as the actions are voluntary, student-initiated, not disruptive or coercive, and take place during non-instructional time.
● Express their faith-based viewpoint in the classroom. Students are free to respectfully express their religious viewpoint in a classroom discussion or as part of an assignment, so long as the expression is relevant to the subject at hand and meets the requirements given for the assignment.
● Distribute material with religious themes or words. Schools cannot impose an outright ban on religious-themed materials if they already allow students to distribute non-religious materials. But as with any materials, schools can prohibit distribution that is disruptive or interferes with the operation of the school.
● Participate in Christian student clubs that have equal access to school facilities, resources and free-speech forums. Under the federal Equal Access Act, faith-based student clubs must be given equal access to all school facilities, resources, and equipment made available to other extracurricular student clubs. This includes access to public address systems, bulletin boards, ability to put up posters, etc. To enjoy these rights, the clubs must be student-led, student-initiated and recognized by the school.
● Invite outside speakers to Christian club activities. As long as the school permits outside speakers, faith-based student clubs can invite speakers to address any topic. If the speaker is featured during non-instructional hours—during lunch or before or after class—then the speaker can address religious themes or share a testimony. But if the speaker is featured during a school event or assembly, then the speaker cannot advance or promote religion. However, the Christian club can invite the speaker to follow up a nonreligious speech with an optional religious-themed one during non-instructional hours or at a nearby location after school.
● Pray at school. Since prayer is private speech, students may engage in prayer at school, so long as it is not school endorsed. That means students can pray on their own and in groups during non-instructional time—as long as it is not disruptive.
● Depending on school dress code policy, students can wear clothing displaying religious messages. Clothing or jewelry bearing a religious message is treated as speech, and therefore cannot be restricted unless the school can show that it causes a substantial interference with the school’s operation. An exception to this would be if the school has a blanket dress code neutrally banning all messages, religious or otherwise. Clothing messages should also respect school policies that prohibit violent or lewd wording. But schools cannot single out messages on clothing for censorship simply because they happen to be religious, while allowing other messages to go uncensored.
Also, keep in mind that…
● Schools cannot cite “separation of Church and State” as a reason to ban student religious expression. Student speech is not the same thing as government, school-endorsed speech, i.e., the “state”. Therefore, courts have made it clear that public schools cannot ban student speech simply because it happens to have a religious perspective.