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Education Law

Separation Of Church And State

The First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The First Amendment has been incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states and their subdivisions. The first provision is called the Establishment Clause; the second, the Free Exercise Clause. Thus, the guarantee of religious freedom has a double aspect. The Establishment Clause prohibits laws requiring that anyone accept any belief or creed or the practice of any form of worship. Courts have relied on the Establishment Clause to nullify numerous practices in public schools, such as offering school-prescribed prayers in classrooms and at commencement exercises, posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms, requiring Bible reading, displaying religious symbols, observing moments of silence, studying Scientific Creationism, and distributing Bibles.

The Free Exercise Clause safeguards the freedom to engage in a chosen form of religion. Again, practices in the public schools have produced a host of litigation on this clause of the First Amendment. Parents with strong religious convictions have brought numerous suits alleging that a part of the science, health, or reading curriculum included content that was contrary to the family's religious convictions and values, thus restricting the family's right to engage in its chosen religion.

Likewise, a series of state and federal statutes has been challenged on separation-of-churchand-state grounds. The courts have ruled that the following practices do not violate the First Amendment religion clauses:

  • Transportation of students to private, sectarian schools at public expense
  • Public purchase of secular textbooks for use in religious schools
  • Use of school facilities by religious organizations pursuant to policies that allow nonreligious groups to use such facilities
  • Release of students from public schools to attend religious instruction classes
  • Provision of a signer at public expense for a deaf student in a religious school
  • Permission for student-organized religious clubs to meet on school property during the noninstructional part of the day

Practices that have been prohibited by the courts include these:

  • Sending public school teachers into private, sectarian schools to provide remedial instruction
  • Providing a publicly funded salary supplement to teachers in religious schools

Additional topics

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