ACLU-TN Responds to Religious Activity in Tennessee Public Schools

September 29, 2009 12:00 am

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Releases Guide for Administrators and Teachers


Nashville – Responding to concerns about religious activities in Tennessee public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) sent out their “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools – A Guide for Administrators and Teachers” to the 137 public school superintendents across the state. The brochure outlines which religious activities in public schools are and are not permissible based on Federal Court decisions and the guarantees of the Establishment and Free Exercise provisions of the First Amendment.

According to Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director, “One of the most hotly disputed and frequently misunderstood issues is the role of religion in public schools. The airwaves are filled with rhetoric suggesting that the ACLU and the United States Supreme Court have taken prayer, God or religion out of the public schools when in fact ACLU defends the rights of students to pray in school as long as they don’t disrupt the school day. However, the ACLU does not support public school-sponsored religious activities because those activities jeopardize religious freedom and the rights of the family to decide whether to pray, when to pray, and to whom to pray.”

In an attempt to clarify the confusion surrounding religion in public schools, ACLU-TN prepared the guide in order to provide public school administrators and teachers with constitutionally sound guidelines regarding religious activities in public schools.

The ACLU-TN letter accompanying the guide explains that “the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from encouraging religion in any way. The United States Supreme Court has long held that this provision forbids school-sponsored religious activities, even when 1) prayers are voluntary or students have the option of being excused; 2) students vote in favor of holding prayers in conjunction with school events; 3) prayers are non-sectarian or non-proselytizing; and 4) students are asked to observe a moment of silence for the purpose of praying in their own manner.”

In addition the ACLU-TN letter explains, “the purpose of the First Amendment is not to prohibit religious expression but to preserve the freedom to worship or not as one chooses. Accordingly, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects students’ rights to: 1) pray in schools as long as they do not disrupt educational activities or compel others to pray along with them; and 2) organize religious clubs and groups, as long as activities take place during non-school hours; school officials are not involved; and any school facilities that are used are made equally accessible to all student groups.”

ACLU-TN’s “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools – A Guide for Administrators and Teachers” and the accompanying letter can be found at:

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