603.08R1 – Teaching About Religion Regulations-Religious Holidays
It will be the policy, responsibility, and aim of the District to demonstrate respect for the religious beliefs and practices of all persons and to refrain from questioning the absence of religious belief.
Students, while engaged in school activities or during the instructional day, may demonstrate religious beliefs through prayer, attire, assignments, and/or speech as long as it is non-disruptive, subject to the rules that normally pertain to other student behavior, and does not impose religious beliefs on other students. Students may be dismissed to attend religious events outside of school consistent with the District’s attendance/truancy policies and procedures.
District employees must recognize that when acting in their capacities, that they are representatives of the state and are prohibited from soliciting or encouraging religious or anti-religious activity, and from participating in such activity with students.
The school should not be used for religious or anti-religious instruction. The instructor will ensure that his or her own views do not bias the instruction. Religious celebrations and holidays of different religious groups may be noted and discussed. Pertinent references to religion, even to doctrinal differences, whenever intrinsic to the lesson at hand, may be included in the teaching of Board approved curriculum. Such teaching will be factual and objective and not devotional. The religious beliefs and practices, or absence thereof, of all students will be respected. Any student assignments will be judged by ordinary academic standards. When the discussion leads beyond the intent of the lesson, the students should be referred to their parents/guardians for further information and interpretation.
District facilities will not be used during school hours for religious activities, meetings, worship, celebrations, or observances. Facility use outside of the normal school day will be subject to the rules and regulations for other non-religious groups and pursuant to the terms of the District rental agreements arranged through Community Education.
R.R. for Policy #603.8 – Permissible Activities in Regard to Religious Expression
It is the responsibility of the Superintendent/designee to ensure the study of religion in the schools follow these guidelines:
- The proposed activity must have a secular purpose,
- The primary objective of the activity must not be one that advances or inhibits religion; and
The activity must not foster excessive governmental entanglement with religion. The lists below are, of necessity, generalizations.
- Curriculum. Teachers shall prepare and teach lessons throughout the year and throughout the curriculum that:
- Approach religion as academic, not devotional
- Strive for student awareness of religions not acceptance of religions
- Study about religion, but do not practice religion in the classroom
- Expose students to the diversity of religious views, not impose any particular view
- Educate about a variety of religions, not promote or denigrate religion.
- Inform students about various beliefs, not conform students to any particular belief
- Demonstrate the impact of economic, social, political, and cultural effects of religion throughout history
- Are age-appropriate
- Music Program and Performances. A significant percentage of choral and instrumental music is based on religious themes or text. Any music curriculum designed to expose students to the full array of music culture therefore can be expected to reflect a significant number of religious songs. However, a music instructor would be expected to select any particular piece of sacred music, like any particular piece of secular music, in part for its unique qualities useful to teach a variety of music skills (i.e. sight reading, intonation, harmonization, expression).
- Student prayer. Individual or collective student prayers are permissible so long as the prayer does not disrupt or impede the educational mission of the district. Prayer led by or at the behest of a public school official, while serving in that capacity is in violation of the First Amendment.
- Moment of Silence. A collective moment of silence, out of respect for a tragedy is permissible.
- Secular aspects of traditional religious holidays. The secular or commercial aspects of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas are, to say the least, undeniably a large part of many lives. To that end, the non-religious aspects f these holidays may be part of students’ lives at school to the extent that they do not otherwise violate District policies and/or procedures. For example, the following are permissible activities (inasmuch as they do not violate the First Amendment):
- Hanging pictures of reindeer, bells, or other non-religious symbols.
- Sponsoring a “giving tree” on which students may hang hats, mittens, scarves, other items for donation to less fortunate persons.
- Sponsoring sleigh rides.
- Wearing holiday attire and religious symbols so long as they don’t interfere with the learning environment.
- Religious Symbols. Religious symbols may be used as a teaching aid or resource, not as a devotional tool, provided they are displayed only as an example of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday and are temporary in nature. Students may choose to create artwork with religious symbols, but teachers shall not assign such creations. Art projects and other class activities shall give students a choice that respects the kinds of celebrations, religious or otherwise, that their families practice. Teachers and administrators shall not assume how students celebrate certain times of the year but shall use religious holidays to teach what these symbols actually mean in the traditions they represent. A religious symbol is:
- Any object that portrays or recognizes the existence of a Supreme Being or deity, including, but not limited to: the Cross, Star of David, nativity scene, menorah, tablets, chalices, crescent, Buddha, and other symbols that are part of a religious celebration or ceremony.
- Any object that is closely associated with religion or with the celebration of a religious holiday that it is looked upon as being of a religious nature, including, but not limited to: the Dreidel, Christmas tree wreath, Santa Claus, Lion of Judah, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies.
- Class activities. Activities are appropriate in so far as they are consistent with the District’s goal of maximizing instructional time. Such activities must not unduly interfere with regular academics.
- Caroling and/or broadcasting. If the songs are secular (“Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Sleigh Ride,” etc.) in nature, there is nothing about singing or broadcasting them that violates the First Amendment. Holiday programs should serve an educational purpose for all students. They may include religious songs so long as they are selected for their musicality, are not limited to only Christian-themed songs and the program includes a variety of selections.
- Greetings. Staff and students alike are free to wish each other a sincere “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Joyous Kwanzaa,” etc., and they may do so within the walls of a public school building.
- Performances. Some performance (i.e. drama or speech) pieces are based on religious times or text. An instructor would be expected to select any particular piece in part for its unique qualities to touch a variety of skills and objectives, not the religious aspects.
- Pledge of Allegiance. Reading the pledge is permissible.
- Graduation or Baccalaureate. School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies.
Date of Adoption: January 19, 2009
Reviewed & Revised: March 21, 2016; June 17, 2019