What Are the Rules and Regulations for Students Attending a Christian School?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. However, this law contains an exemption for religious institutions, including religious schools, meaning that the ADA does not apply to them and does not offer protection from discrimination to students who attend these schools. Students can pray when they are not participating in school activities or instruction, as long as it does not interfere with the educational program. In some cases, teachers may act uninvited and openly religious with students, and school administrators may ask them to abstain.

In Barnette (194), the court confirmed the right of public school students who were Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse to salute the American flag. Some parents and students argue that this violates their rights to religious freedom because school policy forces them to adapt to a set of moral and religious beliefs with which they disagree. The court ruled that school authorities cannot suppress students' expression unless it significantly alters school discipline or invades the rights of others. In one case, a federal appeals court approved a high school's decision to prohibit a student from wearing a T-shirt with a biblical passage that condemns homosexuality.

This debate focuses on public schools; very few people argue that religious doctrine cannot be taught in private schools or that teachers in those schools cannot guide students in prayer. The court ruled that no reasonable observer would consider Wigg's after-school function to be performed on behalf of the school district, even though the club met on school property. Therefore, in general, courts have ruled that public schools have substantial discretion to regulate the religious expression of teachers during instructional hours, especially when students must be present. However, the courts have also ruled that attempts by schools to extend that control to non-school hours constitute too broad an intrusion on the religious freedom of teachers.

Some courts, particularly in the south, have confirmed the constitutionality of the religious discourse initiated by the students, emphasizing the private origins of this type of religious expression. In those circumstances, the appeals court ruled that the school was not responsible for the religious content of the speech. For now, cases such as Harper's illustrate the difficulties faced by school officials in regulating students' expression. In 2000, Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit challenging the phrase on behalf of his daughter, a California public school student.

Finally, Ginsburg noted that, while the Law School has denied official recognition to the Christian Legal Society, the group can still operate freely on campus and is even allowed to use school facilities to hold meetings. The court found that a state law requiring children to attend school until they were 16 years old made it difficult for their families to freely exercise religion.

Justine Marques
Justine Marques

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