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Make Sure You Know About Religion in School

Make Sure You Know About Religion in School

For those Americans whose faith is the most important force in their life, its pervasiveness in all aspects of their life is most understandable. For children and teachers who subscribe to a particular religion and attend public school, it would not be expected that they abandon their beliefs at the door. To what extent they should be allowed to profess their faith or be restricted from doing so, though, is critical to the debate on religion in school.
Imaginably, this discussion will vary depending on the type of educational institution in which learning occurs. For example, regarding instruction in a private facility with an overt agenda in line with Christian values, recitation of prayer and other religious activities might be afforded greater leniency. Religion in a public school, on the other hand, requires more parsing out as public schools exist for the benefit of children from all faiths.
Regarding the teaching of religion in school, it has been summarily stated that one may only teach about religion in public school, not teach religion itself. What this means is that teachers can provide a social and religious context for historical events, works of music and visual art, and other areas where the subject matter is related to matters of faith without expressly endorsing the represented religion.
On a related note, even in the case of holidays of a religious timbre, religion in school is somewhat restricted. Once more, educators may lecture about the overall context behind an occasion’s creation, but may not celebrate in a way that emphasizes the sectarian nature of festivities above those of another religion. Thus, religion in public school is not altogether banned, but the ways in which it is framed are nonetheless important to its acceptability.
As for how children may influence the presence of religion in school, as students they are afforded significant amounts of freedom, but certainly may not turn the classroom or auditorium into a pulpit. In other words, oral reports on religious matters may not be little more than a student’s particular faith-oriented views (again, at-length discussions are meant to be of an academic nature), and remarks in class expressing a specific stance must be germane to the topic being explored.
That said, educators should not necessarily censor a viewpoint put forth by a student just because it clashes with their own values or argues against a rival dogmatic principle. If comments made by a student are relevant to the class’s pursuits and respectful, they are protected by rights to free speech.
Meanwhile, as for children engaging in religious activities outside the classroom on school grounds, public displays of faith do have their time and place. In a non-pressuring way, students may hand out materials espousing certain views of faith, but only at appointed locations outside of normal class hours. Similar provisions exist for children who hold their own meetings before and after school as part of informal get-togethers or even organized clubs dedicated to the study of religion. In short, there are numerous ways in which religion in public school is permissible for youths.   

Understanding School Prayer

Understanding School Prayer

Noting the religious fervor under which our very country was founded, it would be virtual insanity to insist that religion has not had a significant impact on American history. The importance of faith in the United States is evident just from looking at the First Amendment.
While new challenges to school policies on school prayer are bound to occur, the Supreme Court addressed this issue in Engel v. Vitale in 1962. In that case, the Court heard and ruled on the legal circumstances surrounding a public school’s choice to institute a morning prayer that swears allegiance to “Almighty God,” which some families professed violated their beliefs as well as the First Amendment itself. A majority of the Court agreed, finding that prayer in school led by school officials that promotes any religion or family of religions (e.g. Christianity) violates the Establishment Clause, and therefore, is unconstitutional.
It must be noted that this does not imply school prayer led by students should be permitted on all counts. Such an assertion would be far from the truth. The issue of prayer in school was revisited by the Supreme Court in 2000 in hearing Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, in which the first complaints were lobbied against a school district for permitting students to speak before those in attendance at school football games in the form of prayers.
Unlike hearing a prayer in the classroom, which is unavoidable since attendance is compulsory, attendance at the football games was voluntary, a fact not lost on the defense. Nonetheless, the majority decided that having these prayers read over the school’s PA system was a violation of the Establishment Clause. Thus, the leading of sectarian school prayer in a promotional, non-educational context is permissible for neither adults nor children.
Still, those supportive of prayer in school have pressed for reversal of these policies, even suggesting that a separate Constitutional Amendment be drafted to allow for individuals and groups to publicly pray in non-sectarian schools. While suggesting that participation in school prayer would still be voluntary under the new Amendment, liberal-leaning individuals and civil liberties organizations like the ACLU have vehemently objected to enacting such a law, insisting it runs contrary to the very freedoms that make the First Amendment and relevant clauses so vital.
To date, no Amendment has been passed specifically on prayer in school, but if it were to happen, it could have serious implications for the notion of the separation of church and State in American society. 

What You Need to Know About School Uniforms and Freedom of Expression

What You Need to Know About School Uniforms and Freedom of Expression

Many times, the adoption of a school uniform in a school or school district is not intended to limit the freedom of expression of its students. While it did not address school uniform usage specifically, the majority ruling of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is an enduring one in American history.
For one, its findings certified that children in schools must be afforded the same rights of expression as adults and other citizens outside of school, within reason. Moreover, to this day, the “Tinker test” is used when certain school uniform policies and other dress codes are measured against defined standards of reasonableness of limits placed on free expression. 
Likewise relevant are fights over dress codes in schools. As with limitations on freedom of speech regarding vulgarity and other inappropriate language/imagery, clothing with printed obscenities and suggestive themes are generally allowed to be banned by school officials without much recourse for objecting students and their guardianship as an expression of their faith, given it violated the dress code, and most civil liberties groups would argue exceptions should be made for students in this regard.  
In private institutions school uniform provisions are a mainstay and exist as more or less a show of solidarity with the school’s mission. A significant number of public schools have implemented the use of school uniforms, however, not just as a means of promoting “team spirit” or curbing indecent exposure. Some public schools have employed compulsory school uniform policies in trying to improve behavioral and academic standards within their walls. Unfortunately for their officials, in some communities these changes have led to sizable backlashes from the general public.
Many adolescents and teens style their clothing for the very purpose of personal expression and they feel that school uniforms squelch their creativity. Furthermore, some studies suggest that uniforms have little impact on variables like grades and comportment during class hours. Thus, on top from being unsuccessful, they might also be a waste of money. 

Understanding the Juvenile Justice Process

Understanding the Juvenile Justice Process

In the first chapters of the American history of juvenile justice, the age of minority was quite low, making the juvenile justice program largely a non-entity. The courts, espousing the view that children should be held to the same standards of conduct as adults, saw fit to try children as young as eight in criminal courts as adults.
The fate after conviction was also not too rosy for children. Though with time authorities in some jurisdictions provided alternatives to holding children in adult jails, such as work camps, the former solution was still the norm for some time.
It would not be until the 19th Century that the next big policy shift occurred in the history of juvenile justice. For an authentic juvenile justice program to realized, there would have to be a separate court system created to manage the affairs of children, but in a way that was commensurate with their maturational development.
To some extent, juvenile crime was a factor in the promulgation of juvenile courts across the United States, but realistically, not a large one. Though we might think of “justice” only in terms of prosecuting suspects of crimes, the term also implies doing what is right for constituents within that jurisdiction. So, while a revamped juvenile justice program  did take into mind the issue of processing child offenders through the courts, it also saw a need to protect child victims of poverty and neglect.
Though momentum for the creation of juvenile courts did gather in the 19th century, it was not until the very end that an additional court system for juvenile offenders did come to be, and only in the State of Illinois. The Juvenile Court Act of 1899 was a landmark legislative event in the history of juvenile justice.
First and foremost, the Act authorized the literal creation of a judicial court to hear cases of supposed child crimes and to prevent children from failing to reach their potential based on their bad behavior or poor standards of living. Also, this piece of legislation foreshadowed a national movement to change the age of legal majority, raising it to 16 years of age for inhabitants of Illinois.

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Regarding science versus religion in the United States, and more specifically in public education, the debate
over the teaching of evolution in schools is also a brilliant symbol
of this conflict. As a matter of fact, this very subject has a storied history in America.

 

The 1925 court case of Scopes v.
Tennessee
 is one of the most memorable trials in
the history of the country, owing largely to its circus-like atmosphere and the
unorthodoxy of the arguments within. The “Scopes Monkey Trial,” as it
is commonly known, responded to the decision of education authorities to fine
biology teacher John Scopes $100 for leading instruction relating to Darwinian
principles of natural selection, as it violated
State laws that prohibited the teaching of evolution in
schools.


Scopes’ eventual guilty verdict was all but lost in the spectacle of
the proceedings and the clash between evolution theory and creationism. Even as
strict Fundamentalism died a sudden death after the trial, the place of
evolution in schools would come to be contested yet again and the spirit of
said clash would be revived with the emergence of the intelligent design
movement.

 

Some notes about the seeming incompatibility of teaching
creationism, intelligent design and evolution in schools:

 

Scopes v. Tennessee was a case
of national notoriety, despite not being heard in a
Federal court. In 1987, however, the topic of teaching
evolution in schools resurfaced before the Supreme Court
. The case of Edwards v. Aguillard had the
Court weigh in on curricular policies that forced educators to teach
“creation science” alongside evolution in science classes.

 

As intelligent design owes a certain lineage to
creationism, the discussion of Edwards v. Aguillard is relevant.
Like creationism, it stands in opposition to the scientific concepts of
evolution and natural selection, suggesting that evidence of the work of a
“higher power” can be found in nature, and thus, that the design of
our world is more orderly than said concepts would lead one to believe.

 

Unfortunate for its supporters, intelligent design has
received essentially the same treatment as creationism from the courts. Like
the Scopes Monkey Trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) is seen
as somewhat definitive on these issues despite not reaching the Supreme Court.
In line with the idea that intelligent design is mere pseudo-science and a
thinly
veiled version of creationism, Judge John E.
Jones ruled that it was not to be taught alongside evolution in schools in
Pennsylvania, where the case was filed.

 

People on both sides of the discussion have their
objections to the latter ruling. Certainly, supporters of intelligent design in
schools insist that it is legitimate science, despite the notion that it is not
empirically testable, and that it should not be prohibited outright from public
schools. Even those who may not agree with its creationist views may still
object to the black-and-white conflation of concepts in Judge Jones’ opinion.
Technically, intelligent design is not the same thing as creationism, as it
does not specify that a Judeo-Christian God is the “Creator” behind
the design, and thus, believing in one cannot be assumed to be believing in
both.

2 Purpose of A Drug Testing

2 Purpose of A Drug Testing

With special regard to student athlete drug testing, in the past decade important decisions have been reached on the extent of the acceptability of this practice. In 2002, the Supreme Court heard Board of Education v. Earls, which initially came to the courts as a result of the complaint that a school’s mandatory urine testing policy to join extracurricular activities without sufficient cause to suspect drug abuse was unconstitutional. A narrow majority found this drug testing not to violate the Fourth Amendment.
Despite the constitutionality of student drug testing, however, questions about its prevalence in schools remain. On paper, drug testing serves two admirable purposes: 
1) it eliminates the presence of dangerous drugs in our educational institutions and in the hands (and bodies) of America’s youths, and 
2) it identifies drug users so they may receive counseling and treatment to address any drug problems they may have. However, research suggests that testing may not be all that effective on curbing rates of drug use. 
A 2003 study conducted by the University of Michigan with a 900-school sample population found no statistically significant improvement to drug use percentages after instituting random drug test policies.
Not only may student drug testing not be effective, but it also may not be cost-effective either. Even if a school only employs student athlete drug testing, that still is going to cost money. Potentially, a school could be set back by thousands of dollars and only catch a handful of students, if that. With so many schools facing cuts, realistically the money spent on student drug testing may be better allocated to other school services.

Understanding Freedom of Speech

Understanding Freedom of Speech

Another one of the school issues that is of national import and is more than tangentially related to freedom of speech is the use of violent or morbid writing and imagery in classrooms.
In the wake of the tragic Columbine shootings of 1999 and the consistently high suicide rate among American teens, school officials are paying more and more attention to anything that can be considered a red flag in terms of a threat of violence in their buildings or a threat of violence made by a particular student against themselves or others. As such, in-class assignments such as drawings depicting the death of others or poetry containing content of a seemingly suicidal nature can warrant intervention by authorities, suspensions or both. Courts are often burdened by litigation one way or another on this discussion.
The question of whether or not the school can abrogate freedom of speech when it does not occur inside the walls of the school have been contested with special fervor in recent years, as the courts are forced to keep up with the rapidly expanding nature of the Internet and other sources of technology, as well as the growing tendency of our society toward litigiousness. The contents of E-mails and social networking profiles and messages, for instance, are not immune from oversight, notably when they contain threatening language.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that schools may punish students for public displays outside of school grounds. In the 2007 case of Morse v. Frederick, a 5-4 majority declared the defendant’s decision to display a “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” sign at an Olympic Torch Relay event was not protected under the First Amendment, as school officials had reason to suspect this was an endorsement of drug use inconsistent with the school’s mission and rules.