DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is based on research and training, and is meant as a general guide. It should in no way be construed as legal advice.
Hypothetical situations to think about and discuss. Please remember that the law in many of these cases is in no way settled, and is constantly undergoing change.
1. A teacher decides that he is going to invite his students to attend a great new church that he recently joined because he thinks a lot of them will enjoy it and benefit from the experience. During class, he writes the name and address of the church on the board and encourages his students to show up on Sunday.
While at school and performing their jobs, teachers are representatives of the government, and behavior that promotes religion, especially one religion over another, is prohibited. Therefore, teachers must be very careful in these types of situations, even when they feel that they are being helpful and doing the right thing.
2. A Muslim student requests a place to pray during the school day, and his teacher sends him to the principal to ask about it. Anticipating that other students may have similar requests, the principal has the custodians clear out a small storage room and turns it into a "prayer room" for students.
Under current law, public school officials would not be allowed to set up such places for students to pray. Schools should reasonably accommodate requests from students for them to perform religious activities that must be done during school hours, but setting up a prayer room would most likely be going too far and violate the Establishment Clause.
3. A teacher forms a Christian club at school and recruits students to join, then invites the pastor from her church to come to school and run the meetings every week.
While schools must allow religious clubs at the secondary level if they allow other types of clubs, these clubs should be created and run by students. Faculty members or other government agents may attend meetings, but they should not participate in religious activities to avoid violating the Establishment Clause. Outside visitors may also attend, but not regularly, and they should not control the meetings.
4. A coach who has been reprimanded for leading prayers in the locker room before football games figures that he can get around it by having the team captain lead a prayer instead. He explains this to the captain, who enthusiastically leads the prayer for the rest of the season.
This is currently a very gray area under court rulings, but even student-led prayers may present a problem in these situations. Since it is a school-sponsored event, and team members feel compelled to participate whether or not they are religious or believe in prayer, such a prayer could be a violation of the Establishment Clause.
5. An atheist student refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance because he objects to the phrase "Under God." His teacher ridicules him in front of the class and accuses him of being unpatriotic.
Students are only required to remain quiet and respectful during the Pledge of Allegiance. No student can be compelled to say the Pledge, regardless of the reason for his or her objection.
6. A student is given detention for refusing to take off his religious headgear because the school has a no-hat policy due to gang activity.
Schools generally should not prevent students from performing a religious practice unless it disrupts instruction or the learning environment, or is not feasible in some other way. This may violate the student's rights under the Free Exercise clause.