The Biden administration just announced updated guidance about prayer and religious expression in public schools which critics worry could cause confusion about First Amendment rights.
It comes nearly a year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a football coach’s right to pray and amid high school graduations where prayer and religious expression are common.
Monday the Department of Education announced the amended guidelines, warning teachers and staff against endorsing prayer to their students and religious expression in the classrooms.
“In contexts where a school permits teachers, coaches, and other employees to engage in personal speech, however, it may not prohibit those employees from engaging in prayer merely because it is religious or because some observers, including students, might misperceive the school as endorsing that expression,” the Department of Education wrote. “That said, a school may take reasonable measures to ensure that teachers, coaches, and other school officials do not pressure or encourage students to join in the private prayer of those officials or other students.”
Greg Chaufen, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told the Christian Post that the new regulations removed two significant sections that protected the First Amendment rights of students and teachers.
One section endorsed students praying during lunch and the other section protected student groups’ right to choose group leaders who agree with the groups’ mission.
The guidance also allows teachers to teach about religion but only in a philosophical manner concerning the history and origin of a religion. Furthermore, it limits schools’ involvement in religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas.
“Although public schools may teach about religious holidays, including their religious aspects, and may celebrate the secular aspects of holidays, schools may not observe holidays as religious events, nor may schools promote or disparage such observance by students,” the guidelines state.
The guidance also instructs federally funded schools not to select a religious speaker for graduation and not to organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies.
Chaufen worries the new guidance will lead to the violations of students’ and teachers’ rights.
“This guidance may lead to more violations of student and teacher rights sooner rather than later and we stand ready to support students and teachers in protecting their rights,” he said.