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Christian Student Suspended Three Days for Telling His Classmates About Jesus


Jordan Sekulow

August 18, 2023

5 min read

Religious Liberty



It is hard to imagine this happening, and it could not be more unconstitutional. A public school in North Carolina suspended a middle school student because he told his fellow classmates about the love of Jesus. This attempt to take away a child’s ability to share his Christian faith could not be more blatant.

A Christian family was beginning the new school year, eager to see their children succeed. Then out of nowhere, less than a week into the school year, they got a call this week telling them that they needed to have a meeting with school officials. When they arrived at school the next day, they found out that their seventh-grade son was already serving an in-school suspension – where he would be isolated and unable to speak with any of his friends – for the rest of the week. His crime? He told two of his classmates, classmates who had challenged him about his faith in the last school year, that they needed to know Jesus because He died for them. The classmates complained to the school administration.

The school, rather than respecting the child’s religious beliefs or holding the students who complained about religion accountable, told him that sharing his faith was illegal “harassment.” They told his parents that the child was suspended in school for three days, and if the parents tried to remove their child or bring him home, he would fail all his tests for the week and get unexcused absence marks on his record. The school insisted that it considered this student’s attempts to share his religion with his fellow students as harassment.

Later that night this child’s family contacted us, and we immediately got to work to defend against this blatant act of government overreach into student religious expression. The school could not have been more wrong. There are many things public schools cannot do to their students, but one of the most important is that they cannot forbid them from sharing with others their religious faith and belief. Prohibiting a student from discussing Jesus with their classmates is one of the most obvious ways a school violates its responsibility under the First Amendment.

Under the First Amendment, students are free to express their religious views while at school. Such expression certainly includes communicating the basis of that religious faith to others and evangelizing to other students based on religious belief. It is well settled that religious speech is protected by the First Amendment and may not be singled out for disparate treatment. A student has a right to express religious views to their classmates, and a school lacks the authority to prohibit a student from sharing religious views with others.

The Supreme Court has made clear that school officials may not censor student expression unless the speech “impinge[s] upon the rights of others” or creates a material and substantial disruption to the school’s ability to fulfill its educational goals. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 509, 513 (1969). Additionally, the Supreme Court has noted:

School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are “persons” under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the state must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expressions of those sentiments that are officially approved.

Id. at511. An attempt by one student to share his Christian faith with another does not infringe on any other students’ rights; the Constitution protects our ability to freely share our beliefs with one another without fear of reprisal. The sharing of one’s religious beliefs with others is also not disruptive; it is part of the educational process for students to share their fundamental beliefs with one another.

In the past we have fought for many of the ways that the First Amendment protects the rights of students to share their faith, from the topics of student writing assignments to student book choice of the Bible. The ACLJ has always been committed to advocating for the right of students to express their religious faith in public schools. In Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens, my dad, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, vindicated the right of students to start a Christian club in a public school. This is the kind of case the ACLJ has been fighting and winning for decades.

Once we heard about this situation of the student’s suspension, we took action. Immediately after this student’s parents contacted us, we wrote a legal demand letter to this school. We made very clear to the school its obligation under the First Amendment was to respect the right of this child to share his faith, rather than stifle his ability to communicate his beliefs with others. The school is barred by the First Amendment from treating his faith as “harassment.”

We did not merely give this school a basic lesson in constitutional law. We also made clear that we will be proceeding with further legal action against the school unless it immediately ends this student’s suspension, removes this from his academic record, and apologizes to him and his family immediately. This kind of behavior, especially toward vulnerable students, can never be tolerated. We will continue to hold this school, and any school that engages in similarly blatantly illegitimate behavior, accountable to the Constitution.

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