319P - Religion in the Public Schools

  • The First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not forbid all mention of religion in public schools. It is the advancement or inhibition of religion that is prohibited. No religious belief or system denying or objecting to belief should be promoted by the school division, and none should be disparaged.

    A variety of religious beliefs as well as systems enriches the fabric of American culture. The significant and vital role that religion has played and will continue to play in the formation and continual development of our culture is acknowledged and appreciated. The Frederick County Schools should use every opportunity to foster understanding and mutual respect among staff, students, and parents. Simply permitting a student to be excused from classroom activities involving religious content, ceremony, or celebration may not foster such understanding and respect, but may subject students to a cruel dilemma. School personnel should avoid actions which operate to single out and isolate the "different" pupils and thereby serve to embarrass and harass children because of their personal views. Some children may avoid their right not to participate because of an understandable reluctance to be stigmatized as nonconformists on the basis of their beliefs.

    In order to ensure that the Frederick County Public Schools uphold constitutional standards within the religiously neutral role assigned the public schools, the following questions established by the United States Supreme Court should be asked regarding each school-sponsored observance, program, instructional or other activity involving religious content, ceremony, or celebration:

    1. What is the purpose of the activity? Is the purpose secular in nature?

    2. What is the primary effect of the activity? Is it the celebration of religion? Does the activity either advance or inhibit religion?

    3. Does the activity involve an excessive entanglement with a religion, religious group, or between the schools and a religious organization? Are funds of a religious origin being used for a school activity? Does either the school or religious activity require the consent or approval of the other?

    If the purpose of the activity is not secular, if the effect of the activity is to advance or inhibit religion, or if the activity involves an excessive entanglement, then the activity is unconstitutional and will not be permitted in the Frederick County Public Schools.

    Teaching About Religion

    In accordance with the mandate of the Constitution of the United States prohibiting the establishment of religion, it is the policy of this board that the Frederick County Public Schools will, at all times and in all ways, be neutral in matters of religion. The right and responsibility for teaching and presenting sectarian or religious beliefs is the province of the home and religious institutions. This means that the Frederick County Public Schools:

    • will assume no role or responsibility for the religious training of any student; and

    • will in no way become involved in the religious belief, disbelief, or doubt of any student.

    This requirement of neutrality need not preclude nor hinder the Frederick County Public Schools in fulfilling their responsibility to educate students to be tolerant and respectful of religious diversity. Because knowledge of religious institutions and beliefs is critical to understanding human experience, past and present, an education excluding consideration of religion would be inadequate. Such consideration may offer students the opportunity to become informed about the religions of our culture and of other cultures as long as it contributes to the stated objectives of the approved curriculum. Moreover, such study may include the impact and role of religions in the development of civilization.

    It is essential that teaching about and not of, religion be conducted in a factual, objective, and respectful manner. The Frederick County Public Schools will approach religion from an objective, curriculum-related perspective, encouraging all students and staff members to be aware of the diversity of beliefs and respectful of each other's religious and/or non-religious views. Teaching about religion must foster knowledge about religion, not indoctrination into religion; it should be academic, not devotional or testimonial; it should provide awareness of religion, not sponsor its practice; it should inform students about the diversity of views rather than impose one particular view; and it should promote understanding and respect rather than divisiveness.

    There is nothing unconstitutional about the use of religious subjects or materials in public schools as long as they are presented as part of a religiously neutral program of education. As a part of the curriculum, religious history, literature, symbols, music, drama and the arts may be included, provided each is intrinsic to the learning experience in the various fields of study and is presented objectively. For instance, studying music without sacred music, architecture without cathedrals, or painting without scriptural themes would be incomplete from any point of view. Teaching against religion is as intolerable as teaching specific religious beliefs. In response to class questions and assignments, students may initiate respectful expressions of religious belief or nonbelief through compositions, art forms, music, speech, and debate.

    If the religious belief and teaching of the student or his/her parents or legal guardian are contrary to the content of the school subject or to any part of a school course or activity, the student should be exempt from participation. To receive such an exemption, the parent or legal guardian must present a written request for exemption to the school principal stating the conflict involved. Exemptions from required instruction do not excuse a pupil from the total credit hours required for graduation.

    School Ceremonies and Observances

    1. At no time shall any form of religious belief or systems denying or objecting to belief be advanced or disparaged, nor shall any form of religious indoctrination or exercise, including prayers, be sponsored, sanctioned, conducted, or endorsed, by the school division or its employees. For example, the baccalaureate service is traditionally religious in nature and should be sponsored by agencies separate from the school division.

    2. The historical and contemporary significance and the origins of religious holidays may properly be studied within a program of religiously neutral education. Religious diversity in the classroom requires fair and balanced treatment of religious holidays to ensure sensitivity to the rights of religious minorities, as well as of those holding no religious belief.

    3. Music, art, literature, drama, and symbols related to religious holidays may be studied, performed, and used in programs if they are presented in an objective and neutral manner as a tradition of the cultural heritage of the particular holiday. Such programs should be part of a curricular unit and should be simply staged and costumed. Religious symbols may be used as a teaching aid or resource, but should be displayed only for the length of time that the instructional activity requires, and should be accompanied by appropriate classroom instruction as to the significance of the symbol within the culture.

    4. Student groups sponsored by the division shall not perform as part of a religious worship service.

    5. In order to prevent misinterpretation of this policy, teachers who work with children to prepare school programs involving religious content, ceremony, or celebration (i.e., references to deities, sacred writing, music and art) will meet with building principal at the outset of the academic year. The purpose of this meeting is to place such school programs in an appropriate instructional context and to establish a mutual dialogue for selecting, planning, and designing these programs. In the event that the teacher and principal are unable to reach agreement, either party may refer the matter to the division superintendent.


    Adopted: July 6, 1993
    Amended: April 20, 2004