What general principles should public schools and religious communities follow when entering into a cooperative arrangement?
In these guidelines, a “cooperative arrangement” is defined as a shared participation in specific programs and activities in accordance with a written agreement. Before entering into a cooperative arrangement, public schools and religious communities should understand and accept the following principles:
- Under the First Amendment, public schools must be neutral concerning religion in all of their activities. School officials must take the necessary steps to ensure that any cooperative activities that take place are wholly secular. Persons invited to address students during the school day shall be advised of this requirement and must agree to abide by it before being allowed access to students.
- Students have the right to engage in, or decline to engage in, religious activities at their own initiative, so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. School districts are urged to adopt policies that reflect recent consensus statements on current law concerning religion in public schools. “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law,” the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on “Religious Expression in Public Schools,” and other consensus guidelines are available: Write to the First Amendment Center Online to request copies.
- Cooperative programs between religious institutions and the public schools are permissible only if:
- Participation in programs is not limited to religious groups. That is, schools must be open to participation by all responsible community groups. Qualifications should not be established which have the practical effect of including only religious groups. Eligibility shall be stated in writing.
- A student’s grades, class ranking or participation in any school program will not be affected by his or her willingness to participate or not participate in a cooperative program with a religious institution.
- Student participation in any cooperative program may not be conditioned on membership in any religious group, acceptance or rejection of any religious belief, or participation (or refusal to participate) in any religious activity.