Thursday, January 13, 2011
ACLU-NM Distributes Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty in Public Schools
Over the next few days, the booklet Protecting Religious Liberty in Public Schools: A School Official's Guide will arrive in the mailbox of every public school principal and superintendent in New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) developed this booklet as a comprehensive yet easy-to-use resource for schools to protect religious freedom while maintaining clear separation of church and state.
"Every school year, the ACLU responds to complaints from parents about violations of their children’s religious freedom in public schools," said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson in a statement released today. "Religion poses tricky questions in the public school/charter school setting. On the one hand, schools must avoid any endorsement of religion and, on the other, they must guarantee students’ private right to practice their faith. Schools must also accommodate students’ free speech rights concerning religion and belief while preventing disputes that substantially disrupt the educational process."
Jonathan Wilks, Dean of School and Student Life at Amy Biehl High School in Albuquerque, received an advance copy of Protecting Religious Liberty and says that he almost immediately found the booklet useful:
"The booklet is remarkable for its clarity and its fairness of perspective. It was fortuitous that "Protecting Religious Liberty" arrived on my desk when it did. I had just been reviewing a request from a group of our students who were seeking permission to form a lunch time Bible Study meeting at our public high school, and the ACLU's booklet was instrumental in helping me understand our school's Constitutional obligation [permitting the group to form] to these students."
Further compounding the complexity of this issue, there is seventy years of case law concerning religion and public schools to navigate, according to the ACLU-NM. These decisions, ranging from school prayer to religious diet accommodations in the cafeteria, address different intricacies in the balancing act between maximizing student religious freedom while preventing state establishment of religion.
Some of the topics covered in the booklet include:
- Prayer at athletic events and graduation ceremonies;
- Intelligent design and evolution theory;
- Christmas and religious holidays;
- The Pledge of Allegiance; and
- Student religious clubs.
The booklet is also available online at the ACLU-NM website (pdf).