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Module 2: Religious Issues

Module 2: Religious Issues
Matt Landahl
Grand Canyon University: EDA-555: Legal Issues In Education
08-15-2012

Module 2: Religious Issues The topic of religion has been a stagnant and emotional debate within the educational system since the beginning of public education as well as the first steps of the constitution. The Constitutional First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” With this saying citizens feel it is their constitutional right to practice religion or prayer in any setting including public schools. Several issues that arise in the public schools are; saying God in the Pledge of Allegiance, vaccinations of students, and student led religious activities in the public school setting. These issues have led to many debates and court cases. Religion will be an ongoing controversy in public schools since there are different interpretations of the Constitutional Amendments. It is imperative for an administrator of the school to know and understand the laws, to stay neutral, and to seek legal advice when dealing with separation of church and state One of the most controversial issues in the United States and public schools is the use of the word God in the Pledge of Allegiance. This debate dates as far back at 1892 when Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge without the words “under god” (Russo, 2004). However, the Senate and the House of Representative have continued to support the use of “under god” in the pledge (Russo, 2004). According to Russo, Smith v. Denny (1968), was the first case to challenge the use of “under god” in the pledge. The supreme court supported the use of the words in the pledge stating that it did not violate the First Amendment’s religion clauses (Russo, 2004). As of 2012, the pledge still includes the words “under god”. Many other disputes have gone on over reciting the pledge not only about religion and the use of the words “under god,” but over the schools disciplining students for not standing or reciting the pledge. In the case State v. Ludquist (1971), a father who was also a teacher refused to participate in the mandatory flag salute because it interfered with his freedom to express patriotism in his own way (Russo, 2004). In Florida a student was suspended for refusing to stand for the pledge and argues that his suspension violated his freedom of speech (Russo, 2004). In Goetz v. Ansell (1973), the court ruled that students were able to remain sitting quietly if they were opposed to saluting the flag (Russo, 2004). In 2004, the Supreme Court reversed a decision made by the 9th circuit court of appeals and upheld the Elk Grove School Districts Pledge of Allegiance policy which included the words “under god” (Newdow v. U.S. Congress et al.(2004)). The debate over using the word “god” in the Pledge of Allegiance as well as forcing students to recite the pledge is an issue that will continue to grow in public schools. Administrators must remember the ultimate goal of schools is to educate the students and not to push religion or patriotism onto the students. Humans are all unique in their own way and therefore can have completely different views on faith and religion. Within a public school it will violate freedom of speech if you force students to stand and recite the pledge. Forcing a student to leave the room during the pledge is no different than forcing students to stand during the pledge (Russo, 2004). Until the Pledge of Allegiance is rewritten and or amendments are made to the constitution involving the pledge, it will continue to include the words “under god.” Administrators and teachers must continue to observe student freedoms and be sure not to execute and rules that can infringe on the students’ freedoms. Over the last several years Lansing School District has seen a rise in ethnic diversity within the students and community. Along with this diversity there has been a significant amount of religious diversity. Within the district there has been an increase in students not participating in the saying the Pledge of Allegiance due to religious beliefs. As a result administrators have informed teachers to let the students express their beliefs by not participating in the morning routine and they are allowed to sit until it is completed. Along with the ever changing diversity Lansing Public Schools has acquired in recent years there has been debate over school requirements of vaccinations. Public schools require certain vaccinations to be enrolled into the school and to start the school year. However, some students and their families refuse to get vaccinated based on their religious beliefs. Many people may argue that this imposes a threatening medical hazard upon fellow classmates. This threat reflects on the view that all students are allowed a free and safe public education. Vaccinations may be viewed as a safety precaution within the system. However others can dispute that mandatory vaccinations are unconstitutional and unethical. Most states enact laws that make some sort of exceptions to mandated vaccinations based on religious beliefs. In California, students are required to submit an immunization record and if they so choose, they can request exemption based on their beliefs (Harris). According to Harris, this makes it easy to exercise the waiver because it also states that if the school feels that the student has been exposed, they have the right to remove the student. In District 158 parents that refuse vaccinations must write a letter to the Superintendent explaining why their child will not be vaccinated and must report any illnesses to the school nurse. Student led religious gathering on public school property is also a cause for debate. On one side people may feel that it is perfectly fine to organize religious groups outside of instructional time. On the other side people my be concerned that public schools that allow student led religious groups are in some ways influencing religion on the students by allowing them the use of the school property. The ethical issues that arise with this debate is infringing on students freedom of speech and freedom to practice any faith. However, it also can infringe on the Establishment Clause in that public schools cannot influence religion in the public schools. The Equal Access Act requires public schools to treat all student-initiated groups equally, whether it is for religion or any other purpose (Jampol, 2003). The Equal Access Act applies to any secondary school that receives financial assistance from the Federal Government (Jampol, 2003). According to Jampol (2003), most forms of discrimination stem from the school denying students access to the facilities even though it has granted access to other groups. However, the Equal Access Act only applies to secondary schools which maintain an open forum and allow students the opportunity to form groups outside of instructional time (Jampol, 2003). Determining if the Equal Access Act is to be used, it has to be determined if the groups is curriculum based or not. For example, a language club may be considered curriculum based and therefore will not deem the school as an open forum. However, a club non-related to any class may trigger the Equal Access Act and deem the school as an open forum. It is very important for administrators to know if the school is an open forum and understand the Equal Access Act so that no one group is discriminated against. Lansing public schools have an open forum. Outside groups and clubs must contact the administration building to fill out a form and set up meeting times that do not conflict with school activities. Although they are allowed to meet in the building after school hours it cannot be at the same time as a school related meeting. The debate over religion and public schools is an ever growing issue that seems inevitable. There are so many variations of depicting the Constitution which leads to these issues at hand. Administrators and those involved in the public school system must stand on neutral ground and respect the beliefs of others but not impose on the laws and Constitution. It is imperative that administrators seek legal advice when in doubt to avoid any legal cases in the future.
References
Jampol, R. (2003). Religion In The Public Schools. Journal of Education, 184(3), 73-78.
Russo, C. J. (2004). The Supreme Court and Pledge Of Allegiance: Does God Still Have A Place In American Schools? Brigham Young University Education & Law Journal, (2), 301-330.

Lofaso, A. M. (2009). Religion in the Public Schools: A Road Map for Avoiding Lawsuits and Respecting Parents’ Legal Rights. Washington D.C.: Americans United For Separation Of Church And State.

McGough, M. (2011). Idaho Says No To Religious Books In The Classroom. Retrieved August 15, 2012, from http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2011/09/idaho- says-no-to-religious-books-in-the-classroom.html

Smith v. Denny, 280 F.Supp. 651 (E.D. Ca. 1968)

State v. Lundquist, 278 A. 2d 263 (1971)

Goetz v. Ansell, 477 F.2d 636 (1973)
Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al., 542 U.S. 1 (2004)
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