On January 2, 2018, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and United States Representative Mike Johnson, both Republicans, issued the Louisiana Students Rights Review. The 15-page document specifies the privileges of students and educators for exercising their religious faith in the public school arena. Landry feels the instructive guide is long past due.
“Despite court ruling after court ruling affirming our constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression, there remains confusion on the practical application of those rights in public schools,” he said in a statement.
Landry explained that he and Johnson created the document in order to help lay to rest some of the more commonly asked inquiries and misconceptions about this aspect of the law. To illustrate the importance of the guide, Johnson said, “It is important to remember that our Constitution and laws protect the rights of students to live out their faith on campus. Religious liberty is the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights, and the next generation of Americans needs to be encouraged to preserve it.”
The multi-page guide contains three distinct parts. The first section is aptly named “Student Rights to Religious Expression.” This segment of the document outlines students’ rights to pray, talk about their faith, read their Bibles or other religious texts, and invite others to participate in such actions. However, the guide prescribes that religious expression has to be initiated and led by students. It must also be voluntary.
The Louisiana Students Rights Review allows pupils to discuss their faith with other students, engage in religious expression during school organized events, and distribute religious materials at school. They can also talk about their religious beliefs during classroom discussions when they’re relevant to the subject matter and satisfy the standards of an assignment. If a school or its employees are in no way involved, students can pray individually, or as a group, at school sanctioned athletic contests, assemblies, or other extracurricular events.
Increasingly, schools have been taking heat for allowing students to pray during graduation ceremonies. The Louisiana Students Rights Review prescribes that prayer is allowed at these memorable events if a school schedules a time during a graduation ceremony for a student to deliver a message of his or her own choice. Neutral criteria must decide which student receives the opportunity to speak during this time. School officials or staff may not have any involvement in developing or reviewing the student-led prayer. Students must be informed that their speech can’t materially and markedly impede the graduation ceremony or be obscene, lewd, or vulgar.
The second part of Landry and Johnson’s document covers the “Rights of Religious Student Organizations.” This portion of the guide affirms the rights of religious clubs to assemble on school grounds. In addition to meeting on a school’s property, religious organizations may promote their meetings and events, utilize school equipment, receive school funding, and create qualifications for membership and codes of conduct.
While the first two sections of the Louisiana Students Rights Review focus mainly on students, the third segment outlines “Organization Involvement & Teacher Rights.” The guide permits school employees to assemble together for prayer or a Bible study during non-instructional time. For instance, teachers can meet to carry on religious activities before school or during their lunch breaks. While teachers are mandated to remain neutral on religious topics during their instuctions, they are free to discuss religious subjects with their students away from the school setting. Landry and Johnson’s document also allows outside speakers to participate in school sanctioned religious club meetings.
The Louisiana Students Rights Review may have been in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, in December of 2017. The lawsuit, petitioned on the behalf of a Louisiana public school student’s mother, highlighted more than 30 incidents of “promoting inculcating Christian religious beliefs” at Webster Parish School District facilities.
When referring to the document he and Johnson created, Landry said, “We hope this publication helps all citizens better understand religious liberty because too many people have unfortunately been misled into believing schools must be religion-free zones.”
As students’ constitutionally protected religious rights are being trampled on at American schools, everyone should pray that other states will take Louisiana’s lead.
~ 1776 Christian