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Religion in Schools: The Role of School Officials and Religious Events

March 2nd, 2017


A young woman praying in a high school

Religion’s role in schools will continue to be a hot-button issue for the foreseeable future.

The Biloxi School District in Biloxi, Mississippi has attempted to make changes in response to a complaint that was made by a national freedom-from-religion advocacy group regarding religion in schools. This change was made to help ensure that school officials do not participate in or promote religious events.

How the Case Began

Freedom from Religion Foundation is a national organization committed to the separation of church and state. The organization contact the Biloxi School District in October, 2015 after a community member notified the organization that administrators at Biloxi Junior High and Biloxi High School promoted religious events through the school’s public address systems.

The District’s Standard

The district has obligation under the law to make certain that subsidized teachers do not promote religion. Courts have frequently rejected the argument that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.

The Violations in Question

The Freedom from Religious Foundation notified the Biloxi School District that some teachers were actively organizing and participating in religious events.   

The Rights of Teachers in Public Schools

Teachers frequently wonder whether they are able to practice their faith while at school. As employees of the government, public school teachers are subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment are thus required to be neutral concerning religion while performing the duties of a teacher. As a result of the establishment clause, teachers do not have the right to pray with or in the presence of students during the day. Outside of school responsibilities, public school teachers are permitted, as any other citizen would be, to either teach or participate in a local religious community. Teachers, however, must refrain from using their position in public schools to promote outside religious activities. Also due to the First Amendment, teachers who wish to pray or engage in religious activities must do so outside the presence of students. If a group of teachers wishes to meet for prayer or Bible study, these teachers are likely permitted to do just as long as this type of religious practice is conducted outside of the presence of students.

Going Forward

The delivery of announcements at the Biloxi School District has been been directly counseled by the superintendent to reinforce awareness of the need to avoid any announcements that promote any particular religious beliefs, prayer gatherings, or any activity that could be constructed as the promotion of any type of religious belief. The school district administration is also able to take whatever steps are necessary for teachers, coaches, and the administrative staff to know the importance of maintaining a fully neutral stance concerning religion.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

The debate concerning the ongoing clash between the separation between church and state is ongoing even though many individuals argue that there is a long ago established body of law that dictates this specific area. In its blog, Universal Life Church aims to inform readers about the ongoing debate concerning the interaction public schools, which are funded by the state, and religious organizations.


(image courtesy of Ben White)

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