Keep Church and State Separate in Public Schools

children praying

Target: Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education

Goal: End religious harassment and discrimination in American public schools

The United States’ government is legally required to demonstrate no preference towards one religion over another. Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution, but religious belief is not supposed to influence law. Why, then, has the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) been moved to sue a Louisiana school board for its religious harassment of a sixth-grade boy?

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the boy’s parents, describes systematic proselytizing and intimidation. A teacher frequently included religious questions on her tests, taught that the Bible is “100 percent true,” and told students the boy’s Buddhist faith was “stupid.” When his parents complained, the Sabine Parish Superintendent suggested that their son should “change his faith,” and that the only other option was for them to transfer him to another district. A marquee on the front of the school displays verses from the Bible, and Christian imagery is prominently featured in halls and classrooms. Christian prayer is frequently included in school events.

ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman condemned the school’s targeting of the boy, saying, “No child should be harassed and made to feel like an outsider in his own classroom, and students should not have to endure school officials constantly imposing their religious beliefs on them while they are trying to learn.” Tell the Department of Education to put an end to this unconstitutional discrimination and harassment in America’s schools.


Dear Secretary Duncan,

Children in American schools have the right to attend classes free from the fear of religious harassment on the part of school staff. Supreme Court cases have determined religious instruction, required participation in prayer, and posting the Ten Commandments in schools to be unconstitutional. In reality, however, many schools continue to actively engage in proselytizing that creates an atmosphere of discrimination and intimidation.

The Sabine Parish School Board in Louisiana is but one glaring example. A federal lawsuit filed against the district by the ACLU describes how a sixth-grade boy of Thai descent, a lifelong Buddhist, was harassed and encouraged to change his “stupid” faith by both teachers and district administrators. An electronic message board outside Negreet High School scrolls Christian scripture, and students are routinely taught out of the Bible.

Freedom of religion–itself an important constitutional right–is only possible if schools are preserved as secular places of learning. Students should be taught about various religions without being encouraged to take up any specific faith, and no student should be made the subject of ridicule because of his or her religious beliefs. As Secretary of Education, I appeal to you to protect America’s students from ongoing religious harassment.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer via Wikimedia

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