The Religious Foundations of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) United States Constitution (ratified 1789) Thomas Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” Letter (1802)
Declaration of Independence • When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
United States Constitution From the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Thomas Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Letter “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
Free Exercise Clause • Intended to safeguard the rights of people to religious freedom, for which many fled to this land in the first place. • Guarantees complete freedom of belief, but does not extend to protect all religious activity.
Goal of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which are complementary yet competing, is that government should remain strictly neutral both among religions and between religion and non-religion.
Cases • A student’s suit to strike down a practice of teaching evolution as the sole theory regarding the origin of man was dismissed as not stating a cause of action under Article I, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution, Wright v. Houston ISD • The AG stated, in interpreting Texas Constitution Article I, Section 7, that pupils of parochial schools may not be transported on public school buses, Texas AG Op. No. 0-4220 (1941), 0-7128 (1946).
Texas AG Op. No. 0-5037 (1943)-Religious instruction of a sectarian nature may not be offered in public schools of Texas during school hours
Christmas and Other Holidays • Courts have yet to declare Christmas trees, Santa, candy canes, and the Grinch unconstitutional • Schools that study the cultural aspects of different religious holidays and develop displays of the various symbols will most likely be upheld by the courts, as the secular purpose of education students is present.
While courts have strayed, they continue to return to the three-part Lemon test for the constitutionally of a policy or practice challenged under the Establishment Clause test (Lemon v. Kurtzman): • Is there a secular purpose? • Does it promote religion? • Does it create or require an extensive entanglement between the government and religion? The answer to #1 must be yes and the others no.
One must jump all these hurdles to pass the Lemon test, but can stumble if the policy or practice falls short on even one.
Halloween • So long as you limit observance to the non-religious/Satanic aspects of the day, there should be no problem.
Schools may not promote religion in ways such as permitting Bibles to be distributed to students in the classroom, Berger v. Rensselaur Central Sch. Corp. • Bibles may be distributed from the sidewalk or other areas within the school where non-school sponsored materials are available for students to pick up, Bacon v. Bradley-Bourbannais High School District • There is nothing in the law that prohibits Bibles from being placed on school library shelves
Epperson v. Arkansas-Supreme Court struck down a state statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the classroom • Edwards v. Aguillard-Supreme Court struck down a law requiring creationism, be taught along with evolution • Federal courts of appeal have held that it was not a constitutional violation for the state or a school district to require the teaching of evolution, even though that offended the religious beliefs of some, and teachers could be disciplined for lecturing about scientific creationism, in opposition to the required curriculum (Peloza v. Capistano Unified Sch. Dist; Webster v. New Lenox Sch. Dist.)
Simply requiring students to read material that they or their parents may find offensive to their religious beliefs does not violate their rights so long as the students are not required to affirm or deny a religious belief or to perform or not perform some religious practice, Mozert v. Hawkins Cty. Board of Ed. “The parents…want their children to acquire all the skills required to live in modern society. They also want to have them excused from exposure to some ideas they find offensive. Tennessee offers two options to accommodate this later desire. [They] can either send their children to church schools or private schools…or teach them at home.”
Prayer • Neither the public school nor its employees may sponsor prayer at school or at extracurricular activities and athletic events.
Baccalaureate Ceremonies • To avoid constitutional problems (EC), they should be held off school grounds and without school sponsorship or on campus if the school is not the sponsor and the facility is rented to nonschool sponsors pursuant to a neutral school rental policy.