Written by Don Byrd
All too often, school officials mistakenly believe the law requires them to bar all religious activity during the school day. Nothing could be further from the truth. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state, but it also protects the rights of students to pray privately, and to engage in religious speech together to the same extent they are allowed to engage in non-religious speech.
In Tennessee’s Cannon County, that principle is being defended by the ACLU on behalf of a young student who simply wants to read the Bible at school at appropriate times.
The ACLU sent a letter to the Cannon County REACH after-school program on behalf of a family who said their elementary school-aged son was told by staff that he could read any book except the Bible, and that he would have to put the Bible away during a free-reading period.
The ACLU says when the boy refused to put away his Bible, program staff tried to take it from him, mistakenly claiming the state could shut the program down if they allowed him to read it.
Church-state advocates must continue to clarify and educate regarding the interaction between the free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state. Protecting the religious freedom of all students means guarding against school-sponsored religion *and* defending a student’s right to be free of discrimination targeting religious viewpoints.