Prepare for "Religious Freedom Day"
Special Report - January 13, 2009
Students “shouldn’t feel like they have to be ‘undercover’ about their religion” is the primary message of this year’s “Religious Freedom Day,” scheduled for Friday, January 16. Since 1993, the President has called on Americans to observe January 16 of each year as “Religious Freedom Day” by participating in “appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” January 16 is the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom, legislation drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1786 to protect the civil liberties of citizens to express their religious beliefs without discrimination.
The Alliance Defense Fund and a coalition of organizations including the Association of American Educators, The Beckett Fund, the Council for America’s First Freedom, Gateways to Better Education, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the Providence Forum have set up a website to help educators, parents, and students prepare for and observe the day. According to the website, the goal “is to promote and protect students’ religious expression rights by informing educators, parents, and students about these liberties.” Suggested activities include reading and discussing the Presidential Proclamation, the Virginia Statue on Religious Freedom, or the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on students’ religious liberties, talking about countries that oppress religious freedom, and asking students to write about what religious freedom means to them.
The day also brings special attention to the debate over the extent of religious activity allowed in public schools. The coalition believes that “it is often the case that parents who complain to school officials about what they think are violations of the ‘separation of church and state’ do not understand the appropriate and lawful place religious expression can have at school.” David Cortman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund reminds Americans “that everyone is protected by the First Amendment, and that includes teachers, administrators and especially students.”
A pamphlet is available on the website that outlines religious activities by students and teachers that are protected. As long as they do not disrupt the educational program, students may engage in prayer, read their respective holy book, organize student groups and announce their meetings, express faith at school events, and include expressions of their faith in academic work.
Students retain their First Amendment rights while at school.
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