by Nate Kellum
If you are a student, teacher or a parent of a school-age child, you’ve probably wondered how the Bill of Rights applies at public schools or whether they even apply at all. Do students have freedom of expression, particularly, when it comes to their faith?
As a matter of fact… yes, yes they do.
In the influential opinion, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas wrote, “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
We should all keep this in mind.
Students have the right to mention their faith in class discussions and assignments, as long as their inclusion is relevant.
Students have the right to pray on campus, even in groups, as long as that prayer is student-led and student-initiated, and it doesn’t disrupt school activities.
If the school allows any non-curricular clubs to meet on campus after school, Christians have a right to equal access to facilities for any after school clubs they form related to their faith, and teachers are allowed to be present and supervise faith-based clubs.
“Students in school, as well as out of school, are ‘persons’ under our Constitution,” said Fortas. “They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect.”
Qualifying as persons, students have the right to pray and to share their deeply-held religious beliefs. They can wear a t-shirt with a Christian message as long as it conforms to uniform guidelines, and they can bring their Bibles to read during free time.
These freedoms are well worth protecting, so if your student’s constitutional rights are being ignored by your local school, don’t be afraid to stand up for them. Students and teachers alike need good advocates to help them defend their rights.
We can be your advocates at Center for Religious Expression. If your constitutional rights – or the rights of anyone you know – are threatened at school, contact CRE for help. Together, we can clear the path for truth.