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So today at school (I go to a public high school in Texas) a substitute teacher told a kid to stop saying Jesus Christ. I was wondering if the teacher has the authority to do this? It was clearly for religious motives as the kid wasn't being a distraction or breaking any rules.

  • What was the context? What did the kid say before/after? – Matthew Elvey Mar 23 '16 at 4:01
  • I should've added: The kid saying Jesus Christ wasn't using it because he was religious, it was like "Jesus Christ dude" which the substitute probably viewed as using his name in vain. After the sub told him not to say it he stopped. – Will Fisher Mar 23 '16 at 4:07
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    Was it entirely for religious motives? Wouldn't she have reacted similarly if the student had said "shit, dude"? – phoog Mar 23 '16 at 14:48
  • Of course there's no way for me to know if it was purely religious, but it very strongly seemed like she did it because she took personal offense to it. And maybe she would have, but he wasn't being disruptive and I don't see how Jesus Christ is bad without religious bias unlike "shit". – Will Fisher Mar 23 '16 at 20:49
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This is a pretty good guide to the student's right to express their views on religion (for or against). For example you may pray in school, but you cannot compel others to listen to your prayers. You may discuss Jesus Christ and you may advocate a religious perspective, if it is on topic (e.g. in a class discussion abortion, but not in an algebra class).

There are familiar ways of saying "Jesus Christ" which would be disruptive, but a general prohibition against uttering a name (on the grounds that the name is of a religious figure) is not a proper application of the separation of church and state -- as the ACLU statement says, SCOTUS did not make public schools religion-free zones. Whether or not the teacher was given the authority to forbid mentioning religious figures by some supervisor, that would not have been proper authorization. Official advocacy of religion in general, or a particular religion, is contrary to the First Amendment, as is official prohibition of religion in general, or a particular religion.

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  • Does the teacher have authority to require students to conform with certain standards of behavior? Can she tell them not to say "damn" or "shit"? – phoog Mar 23 '16 at 14:47
  • Yes, assuming consistency with school policy. Hence certain gang-connected shirts can be banned, and there is a policy that does so, but if a teacher had a bizarre belief that purple is an evil color, she could not ban purple clothing in her class. OTOH if people took to wearing purple to annoy the teacher, the school would probably decide that this was disruptive, and ban purple. It really reduces to disruptiveness. I recommend laboring through the Texas Educational Code, all 3032 pages of it. – user6726 Mar 27 '16 at 21:05

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