Religious freedom handbook sent to every US public school
A nonprofit litigation and policy group is sending a handbook on the constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom to every public school in America.
“We thought we’d take a proactive, educational approach,” explained Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, an international organization that promotes life, family and religious freedom through education and pro-bono legal assistance.
Staver told EWTN News that by the end of the day on Aug. 10, a copy of the “Patriot's Handbook of Religious Freedom in Public Schools” would be sent to senior administrators in every public grade school and high school in the nation.
Liberty Counsel is sending out a total of 99,750 copies of the booklet in order to spread information about religious freedom to every public school in America.
The organization, which has worked to defend the rights of teachers, students and administrators, described the handbook as an “invaluable resource” that can serve as “the go-to guide whenever there is an issue involving the free exercise of religion in public schools.”
Staver explained that Liberty Counsel has seen numerous incidents of students being told that they cannot pray at graduation ceremonies, pass out religious cards or hold Bible club meetings, even after school hours.
In addition, teachers often believe that they cannot talk about religion at all, even if it is relevant to the curriculum, he said.
“We encounter a lot of bizarre things during Christmas,” he added, explaining that some students have been prohibited from saying “Merry Christmas” to each other or from wearing red and green clothing.
They have also been told that they must change the words to songs that mention God, he said.
Staver believes that there is a lack of information on religious freedom in public schools, “especially among teachers.”
This is detrimental to students’ education, he said, because many subjects – such as art, music and history – are severely limited “without talking about the role of religion” in them.
As a response to the widespread lack of knowledge, Liberty Counsel developed the religious freedom booklet to clarify that students, parents and teachers maintain the right to pray and engage in religious expression when they are in a public school.
The handbook offers guidelines on what forms of free speech, association and religious expression are constitutionally protected in public schools.
These rights are not debatable, but have been upheld by courts throughout the country, Staver explained.
“You can participate in Bible clubs,” he said. “You can wear religious jewelry.”
In addition, teachers may talk about religion if it is consistent with the subject matter they are teaching, he said. And in most places, parents have a right to know about the sexual education that is being taught to their children.
“Students need not leave their spiritual beliefs on the schoolhouse steps,” Staver said in a statement announcing the initiative. “The public school is not a faith-free zone.”
By Michelle Bauman
Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2012 (EWTN News)