How should religious objections to holidays be handled?

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Students from certain religious traditions may ask to be excused from classroom discussions or activities related to particular holidays. For example, holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day, which are considered by many people to be secular, are viewed by others as having religious overtones.

Excusal requests may be especially common in the elementary grades, where holidays are often marked by parties and similar nonacademic activities. Such requests should be routinely granted in the interest of creating good policy and upholding the religious-liberty principles of the First Amendment.

In addition, some parents and students may make requests for excusals from discussions of certain holidays, even when these holidays are treated from an academic perspective. If these requests are focused on a limited, specific discussion, administrators should grant such requests, in order to strike a balance between the student’s religious freedom and the school’s interest in providing a well-rounded education.

Administrators and teachers should understand, however, that a policy or practice of excusing students from a specific activity or discussion may not be used as a rationale for school sponsorship of religious celebration or worship for the remaining students.