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Staying Faithful: Four Common Questions for Public School Teachers of Faith

Can a teacher express his or her faith during the workday and in public forums?

Short Answer: For the most part, yes, you have a right to express your faith during these times.

Legal Answer: The Supreme Court of the United States has clearly articulated that “First Amendment rights, applied in light of special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District).

2. Can an employer discriminate against a teacher based on religion?

Short Answer: No, your employer cannot discriminate against you.

Legal Answer: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . . .” Under this law, your employer cannot take any negative action against you because you are religious. Specifically, if other teachers are allowed to discuss various topics in the employee-only areas of the school, a school official cannot reprimand you for speaking about your faith there, unless it proves disruptive to the operation of the school. If teachers are allowed to wear jewelry, then you have a right to wear a cross to school without being required to hide it

3. Can a teacher hold employee prayer groups or Bible studies on campus?

Short Answer: Generally, yes, you have a right to hold employee religious meetings on campus.

Legal Answer: If the school allows teachers to meet during non-instructional time in school facilities for various social purposes, such as meeting for social organizations or conversations on any topic, then the school is prohibited from barring the use of school facilities for employee-only prayer groups during non-instructional time. However, if the school policy prohibits all “non-business related activity” in a particular room and does not use the room for multiple purposes, it can probably exclude employee prayer groups from that room.

According to the Department of Education, “before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activity.” Likewise, if the school allows outside groups or individuals to use school facilities for meetings, then the school must give teachers the same access to school facilities for Bible study.

4. Can a teacher participate in baccalaureate ceremonies?

Short Answer: Yes, you have a right to participate in these ceremonies.

Legal Answer: Educators have the right to attend and participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies. Several years ago, the Department of Education issued specific guidelines making this clear to all school district in the United States.

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