Within the first year of the ACLJ’s founding, our Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow was already fighting at the United States Supreme Court for students’ right to religious freedom under the First Amendment within the public school system in Board of Education v. Mergens (1990). And we won.
Unfortunately, against clear Supreme Court precedent, there has been a new threat to students’ liberties due to an increasingly “woke” culture that silences our children and their faith while at school.
Just last month a public school drama teacher in Florida specifically went after a middle school student for including a reference to Jesus in her monologue assignment. This particular monologue, written by the student, addressed the hardship of the speaker’s medical condition. The monologue ended with this discussion:
Question: “How can you be so happy with this condition??”
Speaker’s answer: “I feel Jesus accepts me for who I am and that’s what keeps me going every day.”
The student was so proud to share this personal and important discussion as a part of her monologue, and she was rightly concerned when the teacher told her she had to rewrite the assignment to exclude any mention of religion.
This specific monologue assignment had no limitations as to the topic or content, and students were told to create the monologue “in their own words.” However, the teacher proceeded to tell the student to rewrite her monologue as the teacher’s classroom has a “no religious reference” policy.
The teacher went a step further and compared religious discussions to offensive ethnic and racial comments: “I also have guidelines about ethnic and racial stereotypes, which are a part of my explanation to students if they ever write something that could be offensive to someone’s belief system. If you make a religious reference, it could offend a student.”
This is what “wokeness” has come to—shaming middle school students for expressing their joy in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ because it is considered “offensive.” This was a clear violation of this student’s First Amendment rights and an affront to the religious liberties rooted deeply in the history and culture of the United States.
The ACLJ can quickly address situations like this with an informational memo on students’ right to discuss religious topics in their school assignments. In fact, it is well-settled law that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Consequently, the Supreme Court has held that school officials may not intrude upon students’ First Amendment expression without sufficient justification, and may only apply “reasonable regulation[s] [to] speech-connected activities in carefully restricted circumstances.” They 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.
Additionally, the Department of Education has issued guidelines to assist school officials in the proper treatment of student religious expression. These guidelines make clear that student book reports, artwork, reading materials, journal entries, and other assignments that include religious expression must be assessed on the basis of neutral academic criteria.
Thankfully, this parent had the gumption to challenge the school to protect the rights of her child. When the parent presented this constitutional argument to the school Vice Principal, the Vice Principal immediately agreed that the teacher’s “personal guidelines” for their classroom was in clear violation of the school board’s policy. The school confirmed that the drama teacher will no longer ask the student to remove Jesus, or any religious viewpoints, from her assignments in the future.
While this situation was addressed by the school in a prompt manner, this might not always be the case. If your child has had a similar experience, please do not hesitate to contact the ACLJ at ACLJ.org/HELP. We will fight to protect the rights of your child on behalf of all public school students across the country. Do not let this “woke” culture steal the passion for Jesus in the hearts of our children—they are precious and must be protected.
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