Religious Freedom

Seven Religious Liberties

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Here are seven freedoms outlined by the U.S. Department of Education and quoted in Free to Speak: What the U.S. Department of Education says about public school students' religious liberties.

1.  You can pray, read your Bible or other religious material, and talk about your faith at school.

2.  You can organize prayer groups and religious clubs, and you can announce your meetings.

3.  You can express your faith in your class work and homework.

4.  Your teachers can organize prayer groups with other teachers.

5.  You may be able to go off campus to have religious studies during school hours.

6.  You can express your faith at a school event.

7.  You can express your faith at your graduation ceremony.

Download a one-page flyer of these liberties to post on a bulletin board in the teachers' lounge.

To read what you can do to promote greater religious freedom at your schools, click here.

To go to the original U.S. Department of Education Guidelines: click here.

January 16th is Religious Freedom Day - how to commemorate it.

Talking to Educators About a Concern

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How to Talk to a Teacher or Administrator When You are Concerned About a Classroom Activity or Assignment

Technique #1: "Help Me Understand"  

When you first hear of a classroom assignment or activity that concerns you, verify your information with the teacher. Don’t jump to conclusions. However, before meeting with the teacher you can think through why—if what you heard was accurate—you would like the teacher to change the activity or assignment. Then, use the following four-step approach to discuss the issue with the teacher.

  1. Start the conversation by using the phrase “Help me understand...” For example, if you are concerned about a particular reading assignment, you might start by saying, “Help me understand why you chose this book for the students to read.” At this point in the conversation you want clarification. You may assume the teacher has one motive, but after discussing it you may discover your assumption was wrong. Your question should be a sincere desire to understand the point of the assignment

  2. Affirm what the teacher is trying to do in general. There is bound to be something on which you can agree. For example, you might appreciate that the teacher wants the students to learn about the environment, but you are concerned about the particular bias of the book she is using. At this point in the conversation, don’t jump to explaining your concerns. Finding “common ground” is an important part of the discussion.

  3. Transition to your concern by using the phrase, “But have you considered....” Don’t assume the teacher will oppose you. In fact, it is better to assume the teacher will agree with you once you explain your concern. Having that assumption will help you avoid expressing an adversarial tone.

  4. If the teacher agrees with you, ask her advice about what might be a good alternative book, assignment, or activity for the class.

If the teacher doesn’t agree to change what the class will be learning, you may want to ask for an alternative assignment for your own child.

Technique #2: "Your Class, My Child"  

There may be times when you want to ask your child to be excused from an assignment or activity. Here are four steps you can take in an attempt to bring about a mutually satisfactory result.

  1. When you meet with the teacher, begin with a compliment rather than a complaint. Find something you appreciate about her teaching.

  2. As you transition to your concern, be sure to acknowledge—with genuine respect—her authority to teach her subject as she sees fit. This will circumvent the natural defensiveness any teacher is bound to feel when confronted by a disapproving parent.

  3. Follow this with a friendly reminder that though the classroom is hers, you are ultimately responsible for your child’s development. Long after he has graduated from this class you will still be responsible for his academic and moral growth.

  4. Conclude by asking—without challenging the teacher’s right to teach—for her to provide an alternative educational activity for your child. It is best not to have the teacher simply put your child in the hall. Instead, ask that he be allowed to work quietly at his desk on another assignment or go to the library. If you discuss this in a friendly manner, most teachers will honor your request.

Sometimes talking to the teacher doesn’t solve the problem. You should always start with the teacher, but if you are not satisfied with the teacher’s response, you may want to visit the school principal. 

Technique #3: "I Thought I Should Alert You to a Potentially Embarrassing Situation" (How to talk to a principal or administrator) 

Principals are used to hearing the complaints of parents. Avoid sounding like a complainer. Instead, you can approach the principal as a friend and supporter of the school. Assume the principal will welcome your input because it may save her from an embarrassing situation or an unnecessary problem. School administrators don’t want problems. Your input may help her avoid a problem later.

  1. One way to begin the conversation is with the sentence, “I thought I should alert you to a potentially embarrassing problem.” You are not there to cause a problem, but to help the school avoid a problem. It is quite possible the principal is unaware of what is happening in the classroom. For example, what if other parents discovered their children were listening to a guest speaker whose remarks were inappropriate? You will have the principal’s attention if you begin your conversation with the sentence, “I thought I should alert you to a potentially embarrassing problem.”

  2. Explain what you discovered when you talked to the teacher and share your concerns with the principal.

  3. Ask the principal’s advice for how to resolve the problem. If she offers to help by talking to the teacher about the situation, ask when it will be done. Let her know you will call to find out the result of the conversation between the principal and the teacher.

You may also want to bring a friend or your spouse along. You will feel less intimidated, and if you get flustered, your partner can help you express your concern. If you cannot resolve the issue through the principal and you feel strongly about it, you may need to seek counsel from the superintendent. Keep asking, “Who else can help us with this issue?” 

(This article is excerpted from Gateways's ten-topic parenting Bible study, Keeping the Faith in Public Schools: How to help your children graduate with their faith and values intact. It is available in Handbook form as well as with a DVD for small group study.)

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (Paraphrase)

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An easier-to-understand paraphrase of the Virginia Statute

God created us to be free in our thinking. He is all-powerful but He chose not to force us to obey Him. Throughout history there have been people who have tried to force others to believe a certain way about God. Often times this has led to people being forced to believe what the ruler believed even if it wasn't really true. We don’t want that.

It also isn’t right to force people to give money to religions that they don’t believe. It is best to let people support the religion they believe is the best one. The government shouldn’t even force people to support the religion they do believe is right. Each person should be free to support his religion in the way he thinks is best.

The rights we have, as citizens, shouldn’t depend on which religion we follow. The government shouldn’t tell people that they cannot hold a public office like mayor, or governor, or President just because of their religious beliefs. If the government did that, it would only cause people to lie about their beliefs. They might say they believe this or that religion just to run for political office. Of course, it would be wrong for people to lie about their religious beliefs, but it would also be wrong for the government to tempt people to lie by saying that only people who believe a certain way can be in politics. The government’s job is to help keep a peaceful society, not to tell people what religion to follow.

Truth is a wonderful thing. Truth can defend itself if you just let it be told. People need to be free to talk about what they believe is the truth about God.

Because of all this, we, the leaders of the state of Virginia, have decided the government should not force anybody to follow a religion, nor should the government force anybody to pay money to support a religion. People should decide this for themselves. Also, the government shouldn’t hassle people because of the religion they follow. Instead, everybody should be free to follow, and talk about, their religion.

We know that we are elected by the people to make decisions for right now. We know that in the future some group of Virginia’s leaders may decide to change this law. But, if they did that, we want to say right now that would be wrong, because God created us to be free.

© 2014, Gateways to Better Education.  Permission is granted to use in classrooms.

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

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In Virginia, the American Revolution led to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, which had been tied closely to the royal government. Then the question arose as to whether the new state should continue to impose taxes to be used for the support of all recognized churches. The proposal had a number of supporters who, even if they no longer accepted an established church, still believed that religion should be supported by the public purse.

For some Virginians, however, imposing religion on people smacked of tyranny. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom would later be president of the United States, argued that religious beliefs should be solely matters of individual conscience and completely immune from any interference by the state. Moreover, religious activity of any sort should be wholly voluntary. Not only did they oppose taxing people to support an established church, but they also objected to forcing people to pay taxes even for their own church. To Jefferson, a high wall of separation should always keep church and state apart.

Jefferson drafted the following measure, but it was Madison who skillfully secured its adoption by the Virginia legislature in 1786. It is still part of modern Virginia's constitution, and it has not only been copied by other states but was also the basis for the Religion Clauses in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Both men considered this bill one of the great achievements of their lives, and Jefferson directed that on his tombstone he should not be remembered as president of the United States or for any of the other high offices he held, but as the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and as the founder of the University of Virginia.

For further reading: William Lee Miller, The First Liberty: Religion and the American Republic (1985); Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause and the First Amendment (1986); Merrill D. Peterson and Robert C. Vaughn, eds., The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: Its Evolution and Consequences in American History (1988).


Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

Source: W.W. Hening, ed., Statutes at Large of Virginia, vol. 12 (1823): 84-86.