"Free to Speak" Campaign Launched
Special Report - July 23, 2009
A civil liberties group and a nonprofit education organization have joined forces to launch a national campaign to educate the public about the free speech and religious liberty rights of public school students. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and Gateways to Better Education are working together to promote the “National Free to Speak Campaign,” which is aimed at promoting public awareness and understanding of the U.S. Department of Education guidelines on religious expression in public schools. The Department of Education first issued the guidelines, entitled “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” in 1995, and then reaffirmed them in1999 and 2003. But according to ADF, there is a lack of knowledge about the guidelines and the rights of students, especially among school officials.
“The guidelines were sent to every school district, but they didn’t always make it into the hands of school administrators, teachers, parents, and students,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “As a result, some schools have practices that are in direct violation of the guidelines and the U.S. Constitution. This campaign will help schools improve their practices.”
The National Free to Speak Campaign is “designed to equip and inform more school districts, schools, teachers, parents, and students about religious liberty at school, as outlined in the department’s guidelines.” To achieve this goal, Gateways to Better Education has produced an informational pamphlet for students entitled, “Free to Speak: What the U.S. Department of Education says about public school students’ religious liberties.” The pamphlet summarizes seven points of the Department of Education’s guidelines in a pocket-sized document. The goal of the campaign is to distribute 500,000 pamphlets nationwide and to reach 5,000 public schools with the information.
The National Free to Speak Campaign encourages churches, civic groups, youth organizations and schools to order the pamphlets in packets of 100 and to distribute them in sets of 10 to students and other individuals in their communities. They can then request ADF to send a letter, outlining the religious liberties of students, to the school officials of their choice.
“Students have the liberty to express their faith at school,” said Erick Buehrer, president of Gateways to Better Education, in a press release. “One of the most important civics lessons all students should learn is that freedom of religious expression is a fundamental right of all Americans, and, as the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, this freedom does not end at the schoolhouse gate.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.