8800b Operations_Religious Expression in the District

The following guidelines apply to religious practices in the District in accordance with the "Statement of Principles"
issued by the U.S. Department of Education.
Student Prayer and Religious Instruction
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit purely private religious speech by students.
Students have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day
as they do to engage in other comparable activity. For example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures,
say grace before meals, and pray before tests to the same extent they may engage in comparable nondisruptive
activities. Local school authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and other pedagogical
restrictions on student activities, but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against
religious activity or speech.
Generally, students may pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instructions and
subject to the rules that normally pertain in the applicable setting. Specifically, students in informal settings, such
as cafeterias or hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each other, subject to the same rules of
order as apply to other student activities and speech. Students may also speak to, and attempt to persuade, their
peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. School officials, however, should
intercede to stop student speech that constitutes harassment aimed at a student group or a group of students.
Students may also participate in before or after school events with religious content, such as "see you at the
flagpole" gatherings, on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum activities on school
premises. School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event.
The right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not include the right to
have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate. Teachers and school administrators
should ensure that no student is in any way coerced to participate in religious activity.
Graduation Prayer and Baccalaureates
Under current Supreme Court decisions, school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation nor
organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies. If a school generally opens its facilities to private groups, it must
make its facilities available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious baccalaureate
services. A school may not extend preferential treatment to baccalaureate ceremonies and may in some instances
be obliged to disclaim official endorsement of such ceremonies.
Official Neutrality Regarding Religious Activity
Teachers and school administrators, when acting in those capacities, are representatives of the State and are
prohibited by the establishment clause from soliciting or encouraging religious activity and from participating in
such activity with students. Teachers and administrators also are prohibited from discouraging activity because of
its religious content and from soliciting or encouraging anti-religious activity.
Teaching About Religion
Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion, including the Bible or other
scripture: the history or religion, comparative religion, the Bible (or other scripture) as literature, and the role of
religion in the history of the United States and other countries all are permissible public school subjects.
Similarly, it is permissible to consider religious influences on art, music, literature, and social studies. Although
public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular
aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by
Student Assignments
Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral
assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom
work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate
pedagogical concerns identified by the school.
Religious Literature
Students have a right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted
to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities. Schools may impose the same
reasonable time, place, and manner or other constitutional restrictions on distribution of religious literature as they
do on nonschool literature generally, but they may not single out religious literature for special regulation.
Religious Excusals
Subject to applicable State laws, schools enjoy substantial discretion to excuse individual students from lessons
that are objectionable to the student or the students parents on religious or other conscientious grounds. School
officials may neither encourage nor discourage students from availing themselves of an excusal option. Under the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act, if it is proved that particular lessons substantially burden a student's free
exercise of religion and if the school cannot prove a compelling interest in requiring attendance, the school would
be legally required to excuse the student.
Released Time
Subject to applicable State laws, schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious
instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation or penalize those who do not
attend. Schools may not allow religious instruction by outsiders on school premises during the school day.
Teaching Values
Although schools must be neutral with respect to religion, they may play an active role with respect to teaching
civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community. The fact that some of these
values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.
Student Garb
Students may display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent they are permitted to display
other comparable messages. Religious messages may not be singled out for suppression, but rather are subject
to the same rules as generally apply to comparable messages. When wearing particular attire, such as yarmulkes
and head scarves, during the school day as part of students religious practice, under the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act, schools generally may not prohibit the wearing of such items.
Approved/Adopted:  July 13, 2009
Sharon Weinstock,
Aug 3, 2011, 12:10 PM