In attempt to further the divide between church and state, the United States Federal Government has discussed a new regulation prohibiting any public school student or faculty member from bringing their personal bibles to school or from discussing any religious content with other students or faculty members while on school grounds.
The topic of religion in public schools has long been an issue of great controversy and has caused debate among those who believe religion has a place in schools and those who oppose the topic of religion within the educational system.
The new federal regulation, set to go into effect on February 2nd, 2017, will impact all K – 12 public schools within the United States in addition to all state funded universities and community colleges.
Currently, public school officials have been required to walk a delicate line in regards to exactly how much religious content is permissible within their curriculum and their student’s individual right to religious freedom and expression. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 76% of public school administrators are confused and frustrated with the current laws regarding religion in public schools. The results from the Gallup poll indicate that the majority of public school officials find the current laws to be so murky that they cannot know what is legally permissible within their schools. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) have acknowledged the sentiment on their website by saying, “It is also unfortunately true that public school officials, due to their busy schedules, may not be as fully aware of this body of law as they could be”.
Gary Robertson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education told reporters at a brief press conference that he’s hopeful the new regulation will make it much easier for public school administrators to navigate and enforce rules regarding religious content within their respective schools.
Under the new federal regulation, students and faculty members will no longer be permitted to bring their bibles to school even if they intend to read the bibles during their allocated free reading time, during lunch, or in-between classes. Additionally, it will no longer be permissible for teachers to plan lessons regarding the history of religion or the impact religion has had on the world.
Previously, students were permitted to wear items such as a t-shirt, wrist ban, or neck-wear expressing their religious beliefs, however under the new regulation, students will no longer be permitted to wear these items on school property.
Many parents and students are predictably upset by the ruling and feel that the new regulation violates their civil liberties, Bethany Waters, a 16-year old high school student in Louisiana, told a Fox affiliate reporter, “This is so sad, my religious views are very important to me. A ton of my friends bring their bibles to school and we read scripture during our lunch break -it really helps us get through the day”. Several other parents have expressed their support for the new regulation, Darrin Withers, a parent of 3 junior high students, told a reporter on his local California ABC affiliate morning show, “There is zero room for religion in public schools, we expect our children to learn valuable content and life skills within their school curriculum, if kids are interested in God, they can pursue that interest on their own time”.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, all public schools are required to be in compliance with the new regulation by February 2nd, 2017, any student who is found to be out of compliance after the implementation date will be subject to disciplinary action up to suspension or expulsion. Additionally, any public school that receives multiple reports or complaints regarding non-compliance in enforcing the regulation will be subject to penalties and fines.