Student Religious Rights: Survival Tips for School Boards:

June 2007

You'll thank me for this! I came across this excellent article in the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Bulletin, and offer it here as a PDF download with their permission. This is the most concise, accurate and helpful resource I've ever read for dealing with religious expression issues.

Written by a friend of mine, Tom Hutton, a staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, this article summarizes remarks he offered to the Tennessee School Boards Association Summer Law Institute and includes seven important tips for school boards dealing with tensions in their district over religious expression issues

The tips he offers include:

  • Tip 1: Issues over religious expression in the public square are not about majority rule.
  • Tip 2: Public schools are not religion-free zones.
  • Tip 3: Think through neutrality.
  • Tip 4: If confronted with a dispute, you need a comprehensive strategy.
  • Tip 5: Keep it local.
  • Tip 6: Board unity is powerful.
  • Tip 7: Sometimes the issue is more about the fight than the result.
  • Tip 8: If you say “no” to religious expression, provide alternatives.
  • Tip 9: If you say “yes” to religious expression, minimize any impression that the school endorses the speech.
  • Tip 10: Think twice about “letting sleeping dogs lie.”
  • Tip 11: Adopt policies to address potential controversies.
  • Tip 12: Emphasize the First Amendment and religion in your curriculum.
  • Tip 13: Engage your community.
  • Tip 14: Get help.

Each are explained in more detail in the article. If every school board member read this article, we would have far less paralyzing conflicts in our communities and at the same time foster far more mutual respect beyond our differences.

Thanks again to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association who graciously offered us permission to post their article here.

Sincerely,

Wayne


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