STEPS CITIZENS AND STUDENTS CAN TAKE
BY KELLY COGHLAN

If You Live in Texas:

1.      Texas is the first state to enact the “School Children’s Religious Liberties Act” (also known as the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”).  It goes into effect at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year. 

2.      Put the following documents into the hands of your school board members and Superintendent (all of which can be printed off of this website):

a.      Copy of New ACT ("School Children's Religious Liberties Act").

b.     Governor’s Press Release.

c.       About New Act: Religious Student’s Rights Clarified.

d.      Why a Model Policy.

e.      Message to Texas School Board Members.

f.        Any other documents from this website that you think would be helpful.

3.      Between now and the beginning of the school year, your school district must decide whether to adopt the safe harbor model policy recommended in the Act or draft its own policy to comply with the Act.  You should encourage your school district to simply adopt the safe harbor model policy recommended and included as part of the Act.  This way, the school district is assured that it is in compliance with the new Act as to all matters covered in the model policy.  Adoption of the model policy is the easiest, most cost effective, and least risky way to comply with the Texas Act.  

4.      If you live in Texas, you should contact your Superintendent and school board members and ask them to immediately adopt the suggested safe harbor model policy recommended and printed in the Act. 

5.      Some school districts may attempt to thwart the new Texas Act by forbidding any student speakers at any school events (including graduations).  This would be a ploy that no citizen should tolerate.  To combat such a move, citizens should focus arguments on the educational benefits that students obtain when permitted to publicly speak before school audiences. There are many educational and other secular reasons for having student speakers at school events such as the following:

a.      The opportunity presents educational opportunities for students in the areas of speech, English, grammar, and civics; [i]

b.      The opportunity gives students experience with speaking in public, organizing their thoughts, and making a concise oral presentation before an audience;

c.       The opportunity gives students a greater sense of ownership in their school's activities/events through student involvement;

d.      The opportunity promotes a continuation of student maturity, growth, and education by placing additional responsibilities upon students;

e.      Introductions of various school events by students provide a method for marking the opening of school events that provide student participation and involvement; [ii]

f.        Introductions of various school events by students provide a method of bringing the audience to order;

g.      Introductions of various school events by students focus the audience on the purpose of the event;

h.      In the case of graduations, there are certain students who have earned the right to speak. 

i.         If the school district decides that there is even one time that the school will permit a student to publicly address an audience at a school event (including graduations), then the school district must comply with the new Act and adopt a policy which is either the safe harbor model policy of the Act or a policy the school district drafts.  Adopting the model policy is the only way for a school district to be assured of compliance with the Act as to all matters covered in the model policy. 

If You Live Outside of Texas:

1.      Texas is the first state to enact the School Children’s Religious Liberties Act (also known as the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”).  The new Act, however, was written to be model legislation for adoption in every other state. You should contact a key legislator in your state and get them to introduce and sponsor the bill.  That is how it was done in Texas.

2.      But, you do not have to wait until this becomes the law of your state in order to have your school district adopt the model policy in your school district. 

3.      Things to do:  Contact the school board members you know in your district.  Put the following documents into the hands of your school board members and Superintendent (all of which can be printed off of this website):

a.      Copy of New ACT ("School Children's Religious Liberties Act").

b.       Model Policy.

c.       US Department of Education Prayer Guidance  

d.      Why a Model Policy.

e.      Message to Non-Texas School Boards. 

f.   Any other documents from this website that you think would be helpful. 

4.      The goal is to have your school board adopt the model policy for your school district.

5.      Ask the school board members to put the matter of adopting the model policy on the official agenda for an upcoming school board meeting.

6.      In talking with school board members, there are several factors that should motivate their action on this matter:

a.      If you are not in a Texas school district, you should nevertheless encourage your school district to adopt the model policy to bring their school district into compliance with current U.S. Supreme Court holdings and the U.S. Department of Education’s Prayer Guidance.

b.      Receipt of future federal funding by each school district in the United States depends upon the Board having policies that follow the U.S. Department of Education’s Prayer Guidance.  Most schools do not currently have a policy that fully embraces the U.S. Department of Education’s Prayer Guidance.

c.       The issue here is one of fairness to students of faith.  The issue is one of non-discrimination against such students.  The issue is one of government neutrality in matters of voluntary faith-based expression by students.

d.      The model policy does not promote prayer or other faith-based speech by students, it just protects such students from being threatened, disciplined or otherwise made to feel like “second-class citizens” for expressing a religious viewpoint on otherwise permissible topics and subjects, if they do so. 

7.      Get others involved to support the effort.  Ask supporters to contact and/or write a letter to school board members and superintendents asking them to adopt the model policy. You might start a petition (having a copy of the model policy attached to it).

8.      Try to get the issue on the official agenda for the school board to consider.  If you cannot get it placed on the agenda, then you can still speak to the issue by using the “Open Forum” (see below) part of the meeting.  You should attend the school board meeting with as many supporters as possible. Get some students and parents lined up to speak at the school board meeting. 

9.      In most States, during the school board meeting there is a period called the “Open Forum” in which individuals may address the school board for up to 5 minutes each on any subject.  Unless the issue is a part of the official board agenda, the Open Forum will be the appropriate time for people to speak in favor of adoption of the model policy.  Those speaking must sign up to speak shortly before the meeting begins.  Remarks should focus on fairness, educational benefits, and other secular (non-religious) reasons that support adoption of the model policy.

10.   The model policy is essentially an antidiscrimination measure (to protect religious students from discrimination and put religious viewpoints on a level playing field with secular and other viewpoints).  It is not a school prayer policy.  The model policy does not require or even suggest that a student pray or express any other religious viewpoint, it just protects them if they do.

11.  Appropriate arguments supporting adoption of the model policy: There are many educational and other secular reasons for permitting student speakers at school events such as the following:

a.      The opportunity presents educational opportunities for students in the areas of speech, English, grammar, and civics; [iii]

b.      The opportunity gives students experience with speaking in public, organizing their thoughts, and making a concise oral presentation before an audience;

c.       The opportunity gives students a greater sense of ownership in their school's activities/events through student involvement;

d.      The opportunity promotes a continuation of student maturity, growth, and education by placing additional responsibilities upon students;

e.      Introductions of various school events by students provide a method for marking the opening of school events that provide student participation and involvement; [iv]

f.        Introductions of various school events by students provide a method of bringing the audience to order;

g.      Introductions of various school events by students focus the audience on the purpose of the event;

h.      In the case of graduations, there are certain students who have earned the right to speak. 

i.         If the school district decides that there is even one time that the school will permit a student to publicly address an audience at a school event (including graduations), then the school district needs a written policy covering student speakers.  The school district has written polices addressing most every other conceivable issue, and it certainly needs one addressing this important one concerning student expression.  If there is no written policy, it leaves the school district open to law suits. If a student speaker says something that someone does not like, and there is no written policy, then the speech of the student may be attributable to the school district.  If suit is filed against the school district to hold the school district responsible for the content of the student’s speech, how will the district defend itself with no written policy in place?  It will just be left up to the court to guess, and that is not the legal position that any school district wants to find itself. 


i Rather than merely learning about speech, English, grammar, and civics, public speaking involves students in the actual practice and application of these subjects.  Students involved in speaking at events have to organize their thoughts, author, prepare, practice, and deliver a concise oral presentation before a live audience, providing these students with valuable opportunities for learning and application of public speaking and presentation skills.  See Emily Shartin, The Holly Fest:  A Time to Speak Clearly, Boston Globe, Dec. 7, 2000, at 8 (discussing the benefits of public speaking and how the process and practice of articulating one’s thoughts before an audience help high school students in other academic areas and in exam taking), 2000 WL 3358387.  These speaking opportunities can be as educational and beneficial as any academic class.  It would be wasteful to allow these events and activities to pass week after week without the school utilizing them as opportunities for its students to advance their communicative skills—which would surely prove important to them in whatever they choose to do after high school. 

ii In public schools, students participate in numerous recurring activities having natural beginnings and endings, such as sporting events, graduations, assemblies, and the school day itself.  Just prior to the start of each activity, there is usually noise, walking around, and talking.  Attaining attention, silence, and focus normally requires some act to mark the beginning of each occasion. 

iii Rather than merely learning about speech, English, grammar, and civics, public speaking involves students in the actual practice and application of these subjects.  Students involved in speaking at events have to organize their thoughts, author, prepare, practice, and deliver a concise oral presentation before a live audience, providing these students with valuable opportunities for learning and application of public speaking and presentation skills.  See Emily Shartin, The Holly Fest:  A Time to Speak Clearly, Boston Globe, Dec. 7, 2000, at 8 (discussing the benefits of public speaking and how the process and practice of articulating one’s thoughts before an audience help high school students in other academic areas and in exam taking), 2000 WL 3358387.  These speaking opportunities can be as educational and beneficial as any academic class.  It would be wasteful to allow these events and activities to pass week after week without the school utilizing them as opportunities for its students to advance their communicative skills—which would surely prove important to them in whatever they choose to do after high school. 

iv In public schools, students participate in numerous recurring activities having natural beginnings and endings, such as sporting events, graduations, assemblies, and the school day itself.  Just prior to the start of each activity, there is usually noise, walking around, and talking.  Attaining attention, silence, and focus normally requires some act to mark the beginning of each occasion.       ŠKC94-07