Churches

Religious Freedom Sunday

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To increase national awareness for the President’s annual proclamation of Religious Freedom Day (January 16), Gateways and the Alliance Defense Fund are promoting Religious Freedom Sunday—celebrated each year the Sunday beforeReligious Freedom Day. 

Religious Freedom Sunday is a national event in which churches honor the educators within their congregations and inform their congregations about the freedom of religious expression students from kindergarten through twelfth grade have at school. 

The theme for Religious Freedom Sunday comes from the Bible verse quoted on the Liberty Bell—‘proclaim liberty throughout the land’ (Leviticus 25:10).

Drawing Attention to Religious Freedom Day

Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” 

The day is the anniversary of the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson drafted the legislation and considered it one of his greatest achievements. It stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy, and it protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. For a free, downloadable booklet explaining more about Jefferson’s legislation, visit www.ReligiousFreedomDay.com

Today, that protection is as important as ever. In too many instances, public school teachers tell Christian students they cannot include their faith in their homework assignments or classroom discussions. However, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines explaining students’ religious liberties. Students can pray, read their Bibles, and talk about their faith at school during school hours. They can organize prayer groups and Bible studies and announce their meetings. They can express their faith in their class work and homework.

Promoting Students' Freedom of Religious Expression

Sunday isn't the only day to inform students, teachers, and parents about religious liberties at school. The week leading up to, or following, Religious Freedom Day is a great time for students in campus Bible clubs to distribute information to classmates and educators.

Free to Speak (now in Spanish) is a pocket-sized pamphlet designed for students. If each student in a campus Bible club or church youth group receives ten pamphlets they can keep one and give nine to their friends and teachers during the week leading up to Religious Freedom Day.

REACH YOUR LOCAL SCHOOLS: For every package of 50 pamphlets you or your church orders, the Alliance Defending Freedom has donated its time to send a six-page letter to the school official of your choice. The letter cites Supreme Court cases clarifying students' and teachers' religious liberties. 

A Two-Minute Pulpit Announcement

Here is an easy idea your church can incorporate in your services:

1. Put a Free to Speak student pamphlet in each bulletin.

To order Free to Speak pamphlets visit our secure online store. Be sure to order enough for each bulletin and to have extras in your church foyer. Pamphlets are only 15 cents each.

2. Show our 60-second video announcement (see www.ReligiousFreedomSunday.com)

3. Honor and pray for the educators in your congregation. Offer a prayer of thanks and blessing for them.

4. Have stacks of the Free to Speak pamphlet in your church foyer for people to take and give to students, teachers, and friends during the week.

5.  Print our Religious Freedom Day Guidebook and give to school leaders or educators in your congregation.

CLICK HERE for a close up view of the Free to Speak pamphlet.

TO ORDER Free to Speak pamphlets, CLICK HERE.

Be sure to email Gateways your story regarding how you celebrated Religious Freedom Sunday and/or how you distributed Free to Speak in your local schools. To write us, CLICK HERE. 

Evaluate Your Schools

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WELCOME TO THE CAUSE of creating a better future for our children by keeping God in our schools. By that, we mean:

We envision public schools as places where students feel the freedom to express their faith and where they gain an academic appreciation for the Bible and Christianity across the whole curriculum as it relates to history, culture, and values. This can be done legally and appropriately within existing constitutional boundaries and in keeping with current laws and state standards. 

What Can I Do? 
The School Checklist (below) answers the question: “What should I do?” The checklist becomes a simple way to review your schools and, if necessary, advocate for improvements. It focuses on two areas:

  1. Religious freedom so students feel the freedom to express their faith;

  2. Academic freedom so students gain an appreciation for the Bible and Christianity across the whole curriculum as they relate to history, culture, and values.

Evaluate two things in your schools:

  • POLICIES - School policies need to promote and protect freedom of religious expression and academic freedom to address topics related to religion

  • PRACTICES - Classroom practices need to foster freedom of religious expression and instruction about the cultural and historical influence of the Bible and Christianity.


School Checklist

ACADEMIC FREEDOM

School District Policies

The school district has a favorable policy on teaching about religious topics

Y

N

The school district has a policy regarding holidays similar to the Sioux Falls School District which was found constitutional in Florey v. Sioux Falls

Y

N

The school district allows for, or requires, a moment of silence at the beginning of each day (applicable in 34 states

Y

N

 School Practices  

Teachers are adequately informed of the school district’s favorable policy on teaching about religious topics 

Y

N

Bible literacy and Judeo-Christian history, culture, and values are appropriately included across the curriculum (see examples below) 

Y

N

In Social Studies – students learn about the Bible and Christianity’s influence on American and Western civilization (link

Y

N

In Language Arts – Bible literacy  is incorporated to enhance literary understanding 

Y

N

In Science – students are taught the limits of science and have access to the full range of scientific views about evolution (link)

Y

N

In Mathematics – students learn how people of faith use math to benefit others (e.g., charity, inventions) 

Y

N

In Foreign Language – students learn the Christian cultures of foreign countries 

Y

N

In Music – sacred music is incorporated into the music program 

Y

N

In Art – students learn the significant role of Christianity in the support and develop of the arts 

Y

N

In the Library – students have access to the Bible and books with Christian characters and themes 

Y

N

As part of the music program, students sing Christmas carols and other songs with religious themes 

Y

N

Educators teach about the religious aspects of ThanksgivingChristmas, and Easter

Y

N

Teachers conduct a moment of silence at the beginning of each day (applicable in 34 states

Y

N

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

School District Policies

Religious Freedom Day is officially recognized annually by a resolution or policy from the school board. (Sample resolution

Y

N

The school district has a policy and guidelines clarifying students’ and educators’ religious liberties. (Sample Policy
(Sample Guidelines

Y

N

The school district has a policy allowing religious release time programs. 

Y

N

The school district has a policy allowing student-led religious clubs. 

Y

N

The school district has a policy allowing after-school religious clubs. 

Y

N

School Practices

Religious Freedom Day is recognized by each school.

Y

N

Schools annually distribute information about students’ religious liberties to all students, parents, educators, and administrators. Schools consider video for announcements. (sample video

Y

N

Character education lessons include explaining the freedom to express one’s faith in word and deed at school. (See article

Y

N

The schools offer a religious release time program. (link, link)

Y

N

The schools have student-led religious clubs. (link)

Y

N

The schools have after-school religious clubs. (link)

Y

N

 

Sample School Board Resolution for Religious Freedom Day

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Resolution for Religious Freedom Day

Whereas, the right to religious freedom is a pillar of American society, and

Whereas, our Founding Fathers knew the importance of freedom of religion for a stable democracy, and our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, and

Whereas, January 16th celebrates the anniversary of the 1786 Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom that restrained the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy, and protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. This statue serves as the model for protecting religious freedom as evidence in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and

Whereas, each year the President of the United States declares January 16th to be “Religious Freedom Day,” and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship,” and

Whereas, Section 9524 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act ("ESEA") of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, requires as a condition of receiving ESEA funds, that a local educational agency ("LEA") must certify in writing to its State educational agency ("SEA") that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools, and

Whereas, the [--- school district name --- ] declares that it does not find or promote   policies that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in ESEA, Section 9524 guidance, and

Whereas, the U.S. Department of Education has developed guidelines clarifying the freedom of religious expression in public schools and requested that schools inform educators, students, and parents of these liberties,

Therefore, be it resolved that, the [--- school district name --- ] acknowledges January 16, [year], as Religious Freedom Day in the United States of America, and

Further, the [--- school district name --- ] encourages all Americans to reflect on the great blessing of religious liberty; preserve this freedom for future generations; and commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities in their schools, places of worship, neighborhoods, and homes.

Further, the board of education calls on the schools of [--- school district name --- ] to commemorate this day and promote clarity and respect by providing its staff and students with information on freedom of religious expression in our schools.

http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html

http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/letter_20030207.html?exp=0

Commemorating Religious Freedom Day

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Religious Freedom Day

Each year, the President declares January 16th to be “Religious Freedom Day,” and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” It is the anniversary of the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson drafted the legislation and considered it one of his greatest achievements. It stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy, and it protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. (For a paraphrase of the statute, click here.)

The men who drafted the U.S. Constitution leaned heavily on Jefferson’s statute in establishing the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

Today, that protection is as important as ever. In too many instances, public school teachers tell students they cannot include their faith in their homework assignments or classroom discussions.

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines explaining students’ religious liberties. Talking about religious liberties (especially explaining students' liberties to parents) will make an administrator’s job easier because it will clarify that schools need not be “religion free zones.” It is often the case that parents who complain to school officials about what they think are violations of the separation of church and state do not understand the appropriate and lawful place religious expression can have at school. 

The Message of Religious Freedom Day 

The main message students need to hear is that they shouldn't feel like they have to be “undercover” about their religion – that somehow, they have to keep quiet about their family's beliefs. School officials might be hesitant to acknowledge Religious Freedom Day thinking they will need to have a school assembly giving a platform to various religious speakers. This is not necessary. Religious Freedom Day is an opportunity for a civics lesson regarding Americans’ freedom to express and live out their faith.

Commemoration Ideas 

In commemorating the day, a school could have an assembly or could ask teachers to recognize it in their classrooms. Either way, here are some ideas for acknowledging Religious Freedom Day at your school: 

1. Read the Presidential Proclamation. You will find this at www.whitehouse.gov. At the White House Web site, enter a search for “Religious Freedom Day.” If this year’s proclamation is not posted in time for you to use it in class, consider using previous year’s proclamations. For links to previous proclamations go to www.ReligiousFreedomDay.com.

2. Have students write a paper on “What religious freedom means to me.”

3. Distribute to students copies of the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on students’ religious liberties. If you did nothing else to commemorate Religious Freedom Day, this alone would do more to promote real freedom at your school. You could also write a letter to parents and staple it to the guidelines. The letter can introduce Religious Freedom Day and convey, “Our school is a safe place for your child to express your family’s religious faith.” (Visit www.ReligiousFreedomDay.com for more information.)

4. Talk about countries where freedom of religion is not allowed. For research on this, visit http://www.uscirf.gov/

5. Distribute and discuss the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom drafted by Thomas Jefferson. (January 16 is the anniversary of the passage of this statute). For a copy of the statute, and an easier-to-read paraphrase of this document, visit www.ReligiousFreedomDay.com

Students’ Religious Liberties 

Freedom of speech can take different forms. It includes what you say to other people as well as your freedom to speak to God in prayer; it includes what you write in school assignments or what you create in an art class; it includes the words you give to a friend either by speaking or in writing. The information below comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s document Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (February 7, 2003) 

Although, the document’s title implies it only focuses on student prayer, it includes more topics. Here is a summary of the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on students’ religious freedom. 

1. Students can pray, read their Bibles, and talk about their faith at school during school hours.

2. Students can organize prayer groups and Bible studies and announce their meetings.

3. Students can express their faith in their class work and homework.

4. Teachers can organize prayer groups and Bible studies with their colleagues.

5. Students may be able to go off campus to have a Bible study during school hours.

6. Students can express their faith at a school event.

7. Students can express their faith at their graduation ceremony. 

Related Links

ReligiousFreedomDay.com

Religious Freedom Day Guidebook

The National Free to Speak Campaign

Free to Speak pamphlets

Presidential Proclamations (ReligiousFreedomDay.com - scroll down on main page)