Equal Access: Students’ Rights on Public School Campuses
|Author:||Jim Burns, Ph.D.|
Students seeking to exercise their Christian faith on public school campuses have a friend in The Equal Access Act, a federal law that was enacted in 1984 as a response to anti-religious beliefs held by some courts and public school officials.
The Equal Access Act applies to all public secondary schools that receive federal financial assistance and have at least one, student-led club that meets outside of regular class time – and is not directly associated to the school’s official curriculum.
The Equal Access Act also applies to other non-Christian religions. So, for example, a Wiccan student-led group has the same access rights on campus as a student-led Christian Bible-study group. School districts can only restrict access to their facilities by completely opting-out of hosting all student-led, extracurricular clubs.
So, what specific rights do Christian kids have when it comes to meeting or sharing religious ideas on campus? The Campus Alliance’s (http://www.coachingcenter.org/info/c2000.html) Coaching Center has put together some great information and legal resources about this issue. Here’s the Student’s Bill of Rights on a Public School Campus excerpted from their website:
Student’s Bill of Rights on a Public School Campus
I. THE RIGHT to meet with other religious students. The Equal Access Act allows students the freedom to meet on campus for the purpose of discussing religious issues.
II. THE RIGHT to identify your religious beliefs through signs and symbols. Students are free to express their religious beliefs through signs and symbols.
III. THE RIGHT to talk about your religious beliefs on campus. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right mandated in the Constitution and does not exclude the schoolyard.
IV. THE RIGHT to distribute religious literature on campus. The Equal Access Act allows students the freedom to meet on campus for the purpose of discussing religious issues.
V. THE RIGHT to pray on campus. Students may pray alone or with others so long as it does not disrupt school activities or is not forced upon others.
VI. THE RIGHT to carry or study your Bible on campus. The Supreme Court has said that only state-directed Bible reading is unconstitutional.
VII. THE RIGHT to do research papers, speeches, and creative projects with religious themes. The First Amendment does not forbid all mention of religion in public schools.
VIII. THE RIGHT to be exempt. Students may be exempt from activities and class content that contradict their religious beliefs.
IX. THE RIGHT to celebrate or study religious holidays on campus. Music, art, literature, and drama that have religious themes are permitted as part of the curriculum for school activities if presented in an objective manner as a traditional part of the cultural and religious heritage of the particular holiday.
X. THE RIGHT to meet with school officials. The First Amendment to the Constitution forbids Congress to make any law that would restrict the right of the people to petition the government (school officials).
One More to know about,…
The Right to Petition
Another right brought to our attention is the right to meet with School Officials According to J.W. Brinkley and Roevery Communications. “The First Amendment to the Constitution forbids Congress to make any law that would restrict the right of the people to petition the Government (School officials).”
© 1990 by J. W. Brinkley and Roever Communications.
Campus Access Legal Resources
In case you need advice or counsel in dealing with an Equal Access legal issue, we recommend you contact:
The American Center for Law and Justice
Jay Alan Sekulow, Lead Counsel
PO Box 64429
Virginia Beach, VA 23467-4429
Phone: (757) 226-2486
Fax: (757) 226-2836
Christian Legal Society
Center for Law and Religious Freedom
Steven McFarland, Director
4208 Evergreen Lane, Ste. 222
Annandale, VA 22003
Phone: (703) 642-1070
Fax: (703) 642-1075
The Rutherford Institute
John Whitehead, President
PO Box 7482
Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482
Phone: (804) 978-3888
Fax: (804) 978-1789