First Amendment: Religion and Education Essay
In this country an individual’s freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Controversies can become quite the norm when it comes to one’s individual freedom. The most controversial freedom discussed in the separation of church and state. The government has to begin to draw the line somewhere, and that somewhere starts with court rulings and acts. Teachers however still have to struggle when it comes to a student expressing their faith or beliefs about their religion. Teachers should be able to understand their role in their school system, know the legalities of it, and what the Constitution says regarding a student expressing their faith.
For teachers it is a common practice to display student work and to do so impartially. It is very possible for a teacher to remain impartial to work regarding a student’s belief, especially if they share a different one than the student. The concern a teacher may have while looking at the student’s paper should always coincide with the separation of church and state. A teacher must be careful not to infringe on a student’s freedom by changing the practice they use in their classroom just because of one’s students belief.
It is the job of the teacher to have a good understanding of the First Amendment to help prevent any conflicts that happen to arise. The First Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (Cornell Law School).” Two clauses came about simply because of this statement, and they are The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause came about from the case of Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing and established that there would be a definite line between church and state and that the state can not encourage or discourage any student away from their beliefs. Neither a state of federal government “can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another (First Amendment Center).” Another case which also supports this would be the case of Wallace v. Jaffree. A teacher must know their role in their school system because they are the representatives of that state. In fact, a teacher cannot teach religion but can teach about religion (Guidance, 2003). Something called the Lemon test is there to aid the government in helping define the separation of church and state. This test is a three-sided outline that came out of the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971. “Lemon was a consolidation of two separate First Amendment challenges to Pennsylvania and Rhode Island statutes that provided state aid to parochial schools (Georgetown University).” Students may organize prayer groups, however teachers can not aid or seek to help any active roles in such groups. Teachers can however accept and display a student’s work regarding their faith, but it has to be relevant to what they are teaching and should be graded based on the quality of work only.
The proximity of teachers to student makes it very complicated when something such as religion comes up, the teacher should then recuse themselves from the conversation because it can be very easy to cross that line. The First Amendment was made to protect the rights of all citizens, as well as the students in your classroom. As a teacher you should not become fearful when hearing prayer, discussions, or seeing a student’s faith-based work as long as you follow the proper guidelines.
Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. (2003, September 15). Retrieved September 6, 2017, from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html
Staff, L. (2010, February 05). First Amendment. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment
Lemon v. Kurtzman. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/cases/lemon-v-kurtzman–2
The Five Freedoms – Court Case. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://www.firstamendmentschools.org/freedoms/case.aspx?id=467