1

Consider a scenario where a public school that set aside some time to show Christmas themed movies and for the students to exchange some gifts with each other.

Is this permitted? What is the law about religious holidays and public schools?

What if some of the students gave dirty looks to other students who didn't bring presents? Is that permitted?

  • There are some Christian sects that do not observe Christmas. Also, there is only a very loose connection between a lot of "Christmas movies" and actual Christian theology. For both reasons, even a Christian parent might reasonably object to their children being shown a "Christmas movie" in school. – david Dec 17 '16 at 14:57
  • Doesn't the depictions of Jesus's birth, virgin Marry, and the three wise men not qualify as Christian theme? – Noah Dec 17 '16 at 15:52
3

The law of Texas is controlled by federal law, viz. the First Amendment. This item by the ACLU summarizes what that law is. Regarding your concern, public schools are not required to be "religion-free zones". Individuals have the right to hold and express their religious beliefs, or their lack of such beliefs, as long as it is contextually appropriate. That is, you don't get to invoke the First Amendment in the middle of a math lesson in order to engage in a rant. Students are allowed to try to persuade others to believe whatever they want, and students are allowed to be snarky about people who don't share their beliefs. Schools can teach about religion as part of the curriculum, though they cannot teach religion. It is okay to teach the historical fact that some guy decided based on the Bible that the world was created 10,000 years ago, but it not not okay to teach as a scientific fact that the world was created 10,000 years ago.

Although I can't name a specific movie about Christmas that would be plainly objectionable to a non-Christian, we could assume that there is some such movie which is plainly advocacy of a religious viewpoint and which mocks Yazidism. A Yazidi student could then be excused from this movie, just as Christian students could be excused from attending an analogous Yazidi-advocating movie.

2

I'll assume for now that your question is restricted to the celebration of the secular aspects of religious holidays in public schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with tens of other religious organizations, non-religious organizations (e.g. American Humanist Association), and organizations supportive of the separation of church and state (e.g. Americans United for Separation of Church and State) published the "Joint Statement Of Current Law on Religion In The Public Schools".

It says:

Generally, public schools may teach about religious holidays, and may celebrate the secular aspects of the holiday and objectively teach about their religious aspects. They may not observe the holidays as religious events. Schools should generally excuse students who do not wish to participate in holiday events.

More details and citations to case law are available in "Religious Holidays in Public Schools".

-4

I think you are asking for materials you can use to advocate for your children. Here is something that might be helpful:

The federal Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights wrote, just this past July,

"Students of all religions should feel safe, welcome and valued in our nation's schools. We will continue to work with schools and communities to stop discrimination and harassment so that all students have an equal opportunity to participate in school no matter who they are, where they come from or which faith, if any, they subscribe to." http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-takes-actions-address-religious-discrimination

What I have found helpful in my own advocacy for my children is to print out or email a relevant state or federal document for my child's principal, and express my concern about the discomfort my children felt with what happened.

If there is not a satisfactory response, or if there is no response at all, within three days, my state education department suggests to parents that they then bring their issue to the attention of the superintendent of schools. (I live in New York.)

Keep us posted!

  • @K-C - Is that better? (I'm not giving legal advice, just sharing an advocacy tool that has been suggested to me by my state education agency, and which has sometimes been helpful for me.) – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 20:24
  • @K-C - Well, if my child had experienced what OP described, I would find the civil rights statement a useful tool to share with my child's principal. I have noticed that principals (and superintendents, for that matter) have trouble reading complex documents. – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 2:21
  • @K-C - Do you think OP is asking out of idle curiosity? Isn't it more likely that OP wants to advocate so that his or her children don't have problems at school such as those described? – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 2:34
  • @K-C As a parent who advocates for my child, I can easily recognize in the OP's question the desire to verify that what happened shouldn't have happened, and the need for ammunition that will be helpful in the advocacy process. – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 4:01
  • 1
    @aparente001, there is no law at all preventing children from giving each other dirty looks. That would fundamentally violate the 1st Amendment. Individuals are allowed to be extremely bigoted, religiously or otherwise, as long as they don't let it interfere with commerce. Focus on the role of the government, not the child. – user6726 Dec 17 '16 at 20:06

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