Can a student bible club distribute religious materials at school?
This is a question being debated in classrooms and now in a courtroom in Oklahoma. Once a week at Northeast Elementary School in Owassa, Oklahoma, a student bible club meets in the morning before school starts. In April, 2011, the group wanted to send a flyer home with classmates with a phrase that read “Reaching the world for Christ.” The club was also denied an opportunity to use the school’s public address system and take part in an open house.
The restrictions were put in place as a possible endorsement of religion which would be a violation of the First Amendment. The Endorsement Clause states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This means that the government is prohibited from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It enforces the “separation of church and state.”
A lawyer, speaking on behalf of the Owasso students commented that “The school has to remain neutral in all of this. It can’t pick and choose which group it likes or doesn’t like based on the religious content or viewpoint of their message.” The school district’s lawyer further explained that “It is difficult to see how an elementary student could discern that Kids for Christ is not endorsed by the school district when such activities on behalf of Kids for Christ would be occurring by the school district to a captive elementary student audience.”
In October, 2011 the Christian youth group filed a lawsuit against the school district for preventing them to promote their club through fliers, announcements, etc. while other groups like the YMCA continue to be allowed to promote their activities.
Other cases we’ve discussed on AsktheJudge about religion in public schools include the following: