How does the Equal Access Act apply to me?
“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights of freedom of speech or expression at the school house gate.” – United States Supreme Court. In other words, you have the right to be a Christian at your school!! For some students, starting up a Christian club on campus is a breeze. For others, it is more difficult. The facts on what you can and can’t do on campus to express your faith is often confusing because of misinformation or lack of information. That’s what we are here for! We want to give you the facts and make understanding your rights on freedom of speech a little easier.
Organizations that Can Help
- C.A.S.E. – Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism
- C.E.E. – Citizens for Excellence in Education
- www.clsnet.org/ – The Christian Legal Society
- The National Legal Foundation
- J.W. Brinkley’s Student’s Legal Rights on a Public School Campus
- RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS: A Statement of Principles by U.S. Department of Education
Separation of Church and State?
Did you know that the phrase “separation of church and state” doesn’t even exist in the Constitution? It was first heard when Thomas Jefferson gave a speech in 1802, 13 years after the Constitution was written and became law! However there is a clause in the First Amendment called the Establishment Clause that says something to the effect that no government entity shall endorse a certain religion. Now that can cause controversy! According to the courts, secondary school students are able to understand that just because a secondary school allows a religious group to meet on campus doesn’t mean the school is actually endorsing that religion. With that in mind … Let’s review the basics!
1. Know three things about your school.
First, for the Equal Access Act to apply, you need to know these three things about your school:
- Is your school a secondary school? (This is usually a school with grades 9-12.)
- Is your school government funded? (Most public schools are.)
- Do other non-curriculum clubs meet in your school? (Clubs that don’t relate to any classroom or overall school curriculum.)
If your answer is “yes” to all three of these, then the Equal Access Act applies. Let’s move on!
2. Your club must be student-led and student-initiated
Second, to comply with the law, your club must be student-led and student-initiated. Teachers may participate, but only in a “custodial” manner – (if required by your school, a teacher may need to be present to make sure things go smoothly!) You may invite people “guests” to speak occasionally, but the meeting cannot be directed, conducted, or controlled by them. The term “limited” in “limited open forum” as found in the Equal Access Act, means that your club is limited to the students in your school.
3. Make full use of your club privileges.
Third, you have the same privileges that other non-curriculum clubs on your school campus have. your Christian Club is entitled to the same recognition that other non-curriculum clubs in your school have. This means you have access to the school newspaper, yearbook, bulletin board, public address system, club fairs, etc. (Again, that’s if the other clubs have this access.)
The Equal Access Act does not protect disruptive students. Your school may deny Equal Access if:
- Order and discipline are not maintained by the students in the club.
- The well-being of students and faculty in the school are hindered by students in the club.
- Any actions in the meetings are illegal.
Since we doubt the above will be the case, let’s get back to the good stuff!
Student’s Bill of Rights on a Public School Campus
- The right to meet with other religious students
- The right to identify your religious beliefs through signs and symbols
- The right to talk about your religious beliefs on campus
- The right to distribute religious literature on campus
- The right to pray on campus
Equal Access and Me.
- The right to carry or study your Bible on campus
- The right to do research papers,speeches, and creative projects with religious themes
- The right to be exempt from activities and class content that contradict their religious beliefs
- The right to celebrate religious holidays on campus
- The right to meet with school officials
- Taken from Student’s Legal Rights by J.W. Brinkley/Roever Communications