School board considers ban on volunteers’ religious garb

Monday, June 8, 1998

After complaints from parents regarding the presence of Mormon missionaries in public schools, a county school board in Utah is considering barring people affiliated with religious organizations from wearing religious garb on school grounds.

Under current policy, volunteers are permitted to perform public services, such as tutoring and helping set up a computerized library system, in Davis County public schools. The Religion and Education Policy, adopted by the school board more than a year ago, has allowed religious persons to come into the public schools as volunteers regardless of whether they identified themselves with a certain religion.

The school board voted 4-1 late last week to advance a proposed policy change after parents and several organizations, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Society of Separationists, complained that the school policy subverted the separation of church and state by permitting religious organizations to send representatives into the schools to push their religion on students.

Glen and Bonnie Schlotterbeck complained last month in a letter to the school board that Mormon missionaries had approached their daughter and given her a lengthy explanation of their church—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Schlotterbecks asked the board to change the policy to require all religious volunteers to be escorted at all times during school visits and to be prohibited from socializing with students in the lunchroom or the playground.

The proposed policy, which the school board is set to vote on at an upcoming meeting, does not go as far as the Schlotterbecks requested.

Instead the policy revision states that volunteers are not to proselytize on school property and cannot wear “official religious apparel” such as a name tag, clerical collar or nun's habit. Additionally, school “officials shall not introduce or address volunteers by religious titles,” the proposed policy states.

Sandra Wilkins, director of community relations for Davis County schools, said that the school board may take several weeks before a final vote on the proposed changes and that it will give community members ample opportunity to voice concerns.

Wilkins said she could not comment on whether she thought the policy changes were appropriate but did say: “I don't think there were any out-of-bounds activities engaged in by the religious volunteers.”

Wilkens added that some of community members expressed “concern that perhaps the proposed changes went too far.”

Cheryl Phipps, the lone dissenting school board member, said the proposed changes could violate an individual's free exercise of religion.

Although the proposed policy change may never take affect, officials for the Church of Latter-Day Saints announced that they would ask the missionaries to stop volunteering in Davis County schools.