601.18 Religion and Public Schools



Since the contribution of religions to civilization is one of the crucial keys to understanding human history and development, the study of religious history and traditions should be part of the school curriculum, and can play a vital role in enhancing an understanding among people of different religious backgrounds and beliefs.  Such study should give neither preferential nor derogatory treatment to any single religion or to religion in general, and should not be introduced or utilized for devotional purposes.  Furthermore, no religious belief or non-belief should be promoted by the school district or its employees while engaged in school functions.

Criteria used to guide academic inquiry in the study of religion should seek the same objectivity and educational effectiveness expected in other areas of the curriculum.  In addition, materials and activities should be sensitive to America’s pluralistic society and should educate rather than indoctrinate.  All instructional and other school-sponsored activities should meet the three-part test established by the Supreme Court to determine constitutionality:  (1) the activity must have a secular purpose; (2) the activity’s principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances or inhibits religion; and (3) the activity must not foster an excessive governmental involvement with religion.

Written guidelines should be provided for use in planning and conducting studies and activities that have a relationship to religion.  The guidelines should be general enough to allow flexibility, yet specific enough to encourage consistency.

Religious Holidays

The historical and contemporary significance of religious holidays may be included in the program of education provided that such instruction is presented in an unbiased and objective manner.  The selection of holidays to be recognized or studied shall take into account major celebrations of several world religions, not just those of a single religion.  Holiday-related activities shall be educationally sound and sensitive to religious differences, and shall be selected carefully to avoid the excessive or unproductive use of school time.  Teachers shall be especially discriminating in planning activities that are to take place immediately preceding or on a religious holiday.

Music, art, literature, and drama having religious themes (including traditional carols, seasonal songs, and classical music) shall be permitted if presented in an objective manner without sectarian indoctrination.  The emphasis on religious themes shall be only as extensive as necessary for a balanced and comprehensive study or presentation.  Religious content included in student performances shall be selected on the basis of its independent educational merit, and shall seek to give exposure to a variety of religious customs, beliefs, and forms of expression.  Holiday programs, parties, or performances shall not become religious celebrations, or be used as a forum for religious worship, such as the devotional reading of sacred writings, or the recitations of prayers.  Student participation in a program or performance that involves personally offensive religious material or expression shall be voluntary and shall be discouraged.

The use of religious symbols (e.g., a cross, menorah, crescent, Star of David, lotus blossom, nativity scene, or other symbol that is part of a religious ceremony) shall be permitted as a teaching aid, but only when such symbols are used temporarily and objectively to give information about a heritage associated with a particular religion.  The Christmas tree, Santa Claus, Easter eggs, and Easter bunnies are secular, seasonal symbols and as such can be displayed in a seasonal context.

Expressions of belief or non-belief initiated by individual students shall be permitted in composition, art forms, music, speech, and debate.  However, teachers may not require projects or activities that are indoctrinational or force students to contradict their personal religious beliefs or non-beliefs.  In instances where many students might naturally choose to make a religious expression, alternate activities shall be offered.









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