Public school teachers, administrators, parents and students who are confused about what the law says about religion in the classroom should take note: Help is on the way.
Americans United has just published a new book Religion in the Public Schools: A Road Map for Avoiding Lawsuits and Respecting Parents’ Legal Rights.
The 129-page volume is designed to help Americans understand what role religion may and may not play in the classroom. It’s useful for parents, students, teachers, school administrators, board members and anyone else with an interest in church-state law.
Religion in the Public Schools was written by Anne Marie Lofaso, associate professor of law at West Vir ginia University College of Law. Lofaso, who graduated from Harvard and holds law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the University of Oxford, surveys church-state law regarding the public schools, summarizing key decisions from the Supreme Court and lower federal courts.
Topics discussed include school prayer, equal access religion clubs, the teaching of evolution, student religious speech and religiously based censorship or curriculum materials.
“Although public schools may not ‘establish’ religion by acting with religious purpose or effect, by entangling themselves with religion, or by endorsing religion, they also may not prohibit the free exercise of any particular student’s religious beliefs or expression,” writes Lofaso in the book’s preface. “The trick for many schools is how to permit religious liberty without endorsing religion.”
Religion in the Public Schools makes it clear that religion can be studied as an academic subject and that students have the right to pray on their own voluntarily. But, the book points out, public schools may not promote worship, advocate a theological viewpoint or pressure students to take part in religious activities.
The book has been praised for its balanced approach and wealth of useful information.
“This book should be on the desk of every public school teacher, principal and school board member,” said Barbara Forrest, coauthor of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. “Even people who consider themselves well-informed about the First Amendment’s application to public schools will learn new things from it. One can only imagine the lawsuits that might not have been filed had such a book been available decades ago.”
Tammy Kitzmiller, lead plaintiff in the Dover, Pa., “intelligent design” lawsuit, concurred.
“Religion in the Public Schools effectively explains the ins and outs of how religion should be handled in the school setting,” she said. “A must-read for parents and educators alike!”
Americans United was able to fund the publication through a generous grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. Religion in the Public Schools will be distributed in public schools nationwide. AU members can help by giving copies to local public schools, teachers and administrators or by simply spreading the word about the volume.
“This book will help educators, parents and students navigate sometimes-tricky issues regarding the role of religion in the classroom,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said. “Given all the disputes about this topic around the country, it is extraordinarily timely.”
Lynn said he hopes the book will defuse church-state conflicts before they end up in court.
There are several ways to get the book: It is available as a free download at www.religioninthepublicschools.com, or soft-cover copies may be purchased through Amazon.com.