Religious freedom in schools has long been an important issue. We are in an era of heightened awareness of religious freedom and other rights of students. Arizona schools must protect a student’s religious freedom while at school and during school activities and functions.
Student’s Religious Liberties Act
The Student’s Religious Liberties Act was passed by Arizona legislators in 2009. The act provides clarification of student’s rights as provided in the U.S. constitution. The act ensures that administrators, educators, and others do not discriminate against any student based on his or her religion.
Rights of Students in Public Schools
Students generally have the right to express and share their religious beliefs in school and school assignments, as long as that expression is not disruptive of the school environment. They are not to be judged on the views expressed in the content, but rather on the same technical points as all other students. Students cannot be penalized for providing religious topics or viewpoints. While children are allowed the ability to distribute religious materials, schools can prohibit the times or places where this type of activity is permissible.
Schools may have policies regarding clothing or other student possession that implicate religious messages. It is important to note that the policy must pertain to all types of similar clothing. For example, the school may have a policy in place that does not allow children to wear shirts with writing or slogans printed on them. This policy would apply to all types of such clothing, including those that contain religious slogans. If no such policy is in place, a student may not be singled out or reprimanded for wearing clothing that provides a religious message.
A student is not required to participate in any curriculum or activity that violates his or her religious beliefs. The child’s parent has the right to opt the child out of any such activities. The school should have a policy in place for how these issues are handled so they are properly addressed when they surface. For example, the parent would need to submit a form that requests his or her child not participate in a particular assignment or function. Schools need to be proactive to avoid inadvertent violations of student’s rights. Review school policies with a qualified education lawyer to ensure that that student’s rights are protected.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Religious Freedom in Schools, or other Education Law matters, please feel free to contact Erin H. Walz at 480.461.5379, log on to www.udallshumway.com or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.