A Path Between the Extremes

1) True or false: Given a homework assignment to prepare a written report on a topic of choice, a student may write a paper on his or her religious beliefs.

2) True or false: Given a required oral presentation in the classroom, a student may express his or her religious beliefs and close with prayer.

As the United States has become a more religiously diverse society and expressions of religious faith a more significant part of public life, these type of questions are increasingly being faced by public schools. How can schools protect the rights of students to exercise their faith while avoiding any official support of religious activities?

This dual objective has often led to one of two extremes—either school administrators have unduly restricted religious expression or improperly imposed it. The proper role of religion in the schools has been the topic of frequent litigation. But there is a middle ground—one which can serve both purposes.

President Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard Riley recently issued revised guidelines for "Religious Expression in Public Schools," offering administrators, parents, and students a set of principles to provide for free religious expression by students and to maintain freedom from government-sponsored religion. The guidelines, said Secretary Riley, are to ensure that "Public schools can neither foster religion nor preclude it. Our public schools must treat religion with fairness and respect and vigorously protect religious expression as well as the freedom of conscience of all other students."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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