October 2021 Church & State Magazine - October 2021

True Tales Of Religion In Public Schools: Americans United Staff Members Reflect On What Their Public Schools Got Wrong — And Right — About The Role Of Religion In Education

  True Tales Of Religion In Public Schools: Americans United Staff Members Reflect On What Their Public Schools Got Wrong — And Right — About The Role Of Religion In Education

Editor’s Note: As we reported in the September issue of Church & State, Americans United has launched a special back-to-school campaign called “Know Your Rights.” The effort includes the online publication of three guidebooks for students, parents/guardians and staff members to help them understand their rights and responsibilities concerning separation of church and state in public education. (To read the guides and download copies, visit au.org/knowyourrights.)

As part of the campaign, several AU staff members wrote posts for Americans United’s “Wall of Separation” blog detailing their experiences with religion in public schools. These personal stories bring an important human dimension to this issue, reminding us that behind every one of these incidents is a real person whose rights must be protected.

Church & State is pleased to reprint the posts here.

How I Got Tripped Up By Two Corinthians In A Public School

By Ian Smith

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was part of a group project that involved writing a report about a local historical landmark and then giving a class presentation about the same topic. We decided to write about an old historical church that one of the members attended (completely legal, by the way, because we picked the topic). My portion of the oral report involved the church’s beautiful stained-glass windows. One of those windows referenced a Bible quote from the Second Epistle to the Cor­in­thians which was written out in the inscription as 2 Corinthians.    

The day of the oral report arrived, and I realized that I, not having grown up going to church, had no idea how to say “2 Corinthians” out loud. This was – and wow, does this make me feel old – pre-easily-available-Internet, so just Googling it was not an option (we had WebCrawler – it wasn’t as good). I think I knew the full title, but was I supposed to say that? Or was it “two Corinthians” (some sympathy here for our former president)? Or something else? I was already nervous about the presentation, being no great fan of public speaking, and this sent me over the edge into near panic. 

I thought I could ask others in the class, as surely everyone else in my heavily religious rural east Tennessee high school would know immediately how to resolve my dilemma, but I was reluctant. It was no secret that I was one of the few nonreligious students in the school (I had been told I was going to hell more times than I could count already), but I knew it was always a risk to remind people of that fact. Still, needs must, so I gathered my courage and asked around … and mostly got stared at as if I had just grown a second head. Now I know that they probably didn’t know either, but at the time I just felt like the world’s biggest idiot. 

Reader, I did not do well with that oral report. We were being partly graded on presentation, and that one silly little thing had me staring down at my written notes and mumbling through the content, sure that every person in the class was condemning me to the fiery pit because I didn’t know how to say 2 Corinthians (for what it’s worth, it’s called “Second Corinthians”). Even something as small as that – something completely invented in my own mind – had a profound impact on my performance and grade that day.

Now imagine the school doing that to a child on purpose.

That’s what I do every time I answer a complaint about a violation of the separation of church and state in a public school. Every time I hear about a choir teacher having the school choir perform at a church worship service.  About a football coach praying with students or requiring attendance of players at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. About a school posting the Ten Commandments or having prayers over the loudspeaker every morning. About an elementary school allowing the Gid­eons to sit in the hallway and give Bibles to students under the watchful gaze of teachers. These things have real and immediate impact on students, and they happen every day all over the country.

Americans United is putting out a series of Know Your Rights guides for teachers, students and parents. I was the primary author of these guides, and it is my hope that the information within will prove to be a good resource for folks now and in the years to come. I hope that they will help teachers and other school officials to avoid inadvertent violations and also help teachers who are being coerced into religious practice. I hope that they will help students and parents to recognize violations and to enable them to either challenge those violations themselves or to know that they should contact Americans United to get professional assistance.

And I mostly hope that they will help to ensure that there are students out there who are never made to feel like I did that day – like they don’t belong in their own community. 

Ian Smith is staff attorney at Americans United.


A Tale Of Two Prayer Policies — One Forced, One Free

By Rob Boston

People sometimes ask what got me interested in working to support church-state separation.

There are two reasons for that. One is that my reading of history has convinced me that combinations of religion and state are always dangerous; they crush freedom, they never lift it up.

The second reason is more personal. As a child growing up in central Pennsylvania, I attended a private Catholic school for the first eight years of my education. We were ordered to pray three times a day – you could set your watch by it.

This was a private school, and they had the right to do it. But as I got older, I started to chafe against the idea that spirituality could be conjured up on command, that it could be turned on and off like a light switch. There were many times when I genuinely didn’t feel the need for spiritual guidance, but I had to go through the motions anyway. These mandated religious exercises were by rote, formulaic and increasingly pointless. Far from a genuine attempt to communicate with God, for me they became just a thing to be gotten through.

In ninth grade, I switched to the public school system. Pennsylvania law allowed for a moment of silence at the beginning of the day, but that was it. You could pray privately in a non-disruptive manner, let your mind wander or just wait for the time to pass.

From this point on, my education was generally secular, although I do recall a few missteps during my four years in public school. In ninth grade, we had an assembly featuring some entertainers who performed silly sketches and songs. For some reason, they ended with “Operator (Give Me Jesus on the Line),” a gospel number. A year later, the high school scheduled an assembly by some athletes who planned to perform feats of strength (OK) and preach about Jesus (not OK). Some parents protested, and an uproar ensued. The event was moved off school grounds but still took place during the school day. Attendance was voluntary, and those of us who chose not to go ended up sitting in classrooms watching television.

On balance, though, I was glad to be free of compulsory prayer and school-sponsored religion. And even though I knew little about the law back then, I had an instinctive understanding that it was simply wrong for public school teachers and staff, who are agents of the state, to sponsor or pressure anyone to take part in religious activity.

Yet I also knew that our school was no “religion-free zone.” One of my favorite classes was an elective I took about world religions. The approach was strictly objective, and there was no proselytizing. This was the first time I had been exposed to the doctrines of non-Christian faiths. It was an eye-opener.

As public schools around the country return to session, Americans Uni­ted’s new Know Your Rights campaign will ensure that young people, their parents and teachers know their rights and responsibilities. Students can’t be forced to pray, read the Bible or take part in other devotional activities. Public schools can’t teach cre­ation­ism in science classes or sponsor evangelistic assemblies. Staff members can’t be forced to attend religious events.

Of course, we know these things happen in some public schools. Our campaign is designed to put an end to that. We seek to empower students who attend public schools, their parents and those who work in them so when they see something that’s not appropriate, they’ll speak up – and reach out to Americans United.

Rob Boston is editor of Church & State magazine.


How A Fourth Grader’s Request Sparked A Classroom Lesson In Tolerance

By Alex Bodaken

In the fall of 2014, I was in my first year of teaching fourth grade in a Baltimore public school. Our class had an established routine: The kids would trickle in and could chat for a couple of minutes before the bell rang to start the day. The Pledge of Allegiance would then come over the loudspeaker, we would all stand and recite it and then we would begin working.

That routine was uneventful until one day in October, when one of my students, whom I’ll call “Michael,” came into class and softly requested to ask me a question. He then said that his parents had told him that it was against their religion to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and he asked for permission to sit when the Pledge came over the loudspeaker. 

Now, I have to confess something that I am not particularly proud of: My first instinct was to worry about the impact Michael’s choice would have on my class. For a first-year teacher, classroom order is valuable currency. I feared that other students, seeing Michael sitting during the Pledge, would fail to understand his reasons for doing so and would instead see an opportunity to, like Michael, opt out of classroom rules. Indeed, religious dissenters often face this attitude: that things would be easier if they just didn’t rock the boat.

But Michael wasn’t trying to rock the boat. He and his family were simply exercising their right to practice religion free from state interference. As long ago as 1943, in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court made it clear that students cannot be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”

At the time, I didn’t know the Barnette case – I wouldn’t enter law school until years later. But whatever my worries about how Michael’s actions might impact the class, I didn’t have to know the law to realize that forcing a student to violate his religious beliefs in the classroom was wrong. So, despite my fears about how Michael’s decision might impact classroom order, I told him that he was free to sit and thanked him for informing me about his and his family’s choice.

Minutes later, the Pledge came over the loudspeaker. I stood, as did the class – except for Michael, who remained seated. As those of us standing recited the Pledge, students looked quizzically at Michael. I braced myself for an expected torrent of “How come Michael doesn’t have to stand?” and “That’s not fair!”

But when the Pledge ended, the students instead started asking questions – first, to Michael, about his decision to sit, his faith and why he couldn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. And then they started asking me questions too: about the Pledge, why we do it and what it means. After talking for 20 or 30 minutes, all of us – my students, Michael and I – had a greater understanding of what the Pledge was, why we said it and what it meant to each of us.

Dissent, in the form of religious difference or non-religion, can be scary. It can feel uncomfortable or disorderly. But that day in a class of fourth graders, I saw how creating space for those with non-majoritarian beliefs doesn’t just protect those believers (or non-believers). It also presents us all with an opportunity to reflect on and gain a greater under­standing of our own views and traditions. In other words, the rights of dissenters protect all of us. And I’m proud to work at Americans United, where through our Know Your Rights campaign and other vehicles, we protect those rights every day.

Alex Bodaken is the Steven Gey constitutional litigation fellow at Americans United.


Religion And Government Don’t Mix In Public Schools — And That Means All Religions

By Naomi Paiss

Unlike some of my AU colleagues who have blogged re­cently to celebrate our Know Your Rights guides, I grew up in a big city – Philadelphia. But back then, Philly was such an ethnically segregated place that my classes in the public school I attended from fourth through sixth grades were each comprised of 35 Jewish kids, including me.

And one Protestant.

Barbara B., my former classmate, this blog post is in honor of you. With a school system that didn’t yet close because of high absenteeism during the High Holidays, what did you do on those days when every single classmate (and our teachers!) were in synagogue? How did you take those in-group jokes that just assumed that everyone was getting eight presents on Hanukkah and couldn’t eat bread for the eight days of Passover?

At least you were not learning, as I later did when sent to a Hebrew Day School, that the Torah was the source of all wisdom. Our public school teachers might have been culturally monotonous, but there were no prayers in that school – although I think we all learned some fairly secular Christian songs like “The 12 Days of Christmas” out of respect for the larger culture. But when as a proto-atheist and all-around troublemaker I fought with my Judaica teachers later on, I sometimes thought of that one Christian girl in my public school and wondered how it affected her later in life.

This is all to say that religion, even in its best iterations, often fosters inclusion for its participants and exclusion for others. That’s one of the best reasons to ensure that religion is never, ever backed by the power of the state. 

Later in life, I lived in Israel, a country with no formal division between religion and state. There is no civil marriage; everyone has to be married by the clergy of their own religion, and for the Jewish secular majority, that means following the rules of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. Divorce, burial, even public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath are all controlled or influenced by that same rabbinate and its outsized political power.

If I hadn’t already been a strong supporter of religion-state separation as a religious minority in America, being part of the silently oppressed majority in Israel would have confirmed it. In other words, it’s not that Christians in the U.S. or Muslims in Afghanistan or Hindus in India all want to oppress religious minorities or claim that their religion represents the only real belonging and identification with the polity. It’s that a majority religion backed by the power of the state, even when that religion is a tiny minority worldwide as with officially Jewish Israel, always seems to find a way to overstep its bounds and exclude those who don’t belong to or agree with it.

When we at Americans United talk about Christian nationalism, it’s not because we think that American Christians want to bigfoot everybody else. The vast majority do not. But we see evidence every day of those who insist that America is a Christian country that should follow very narrowly interpreted Christian religious beliefs, and of what happens when those extremist beliefs are weaponized into law and public policy.

That’s what we fight here. That’s why we provide the facts about church-state separation, as in the guides to religious freedom in public schools we have produced.

And that’s why we ask you to join us.

Naomi Paiss is vice president of strategic communications for Americans United.


You Don’t Have To Convince Me We Need Chuch-State Separation — I Grew Up In A Town Without It

By Amy Couch

When people ask me where I grew up, my typical answer is, “In a town of 3,394 people in south­east Ark­ansas about five miles north of the Louisiana border. Our town had one stoplight, two gas stations and 27 churches.” When people ask me what it was like growing up in a little evangelical town on the edge of the Mississippi River, my answers sound more like atheist versions of Flannery O’Connor stories – tall tales of morally flawed, racist folks living their lives under the watchful, often wrathful, eye of God.

Where I grew up there simply was no separation of church and state. In fact, I can’t remember a school day that didn’t begin with a class prayer followed by a standing rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance – or a church service when our pastor didn’t boisterously preach politics from the pulpit along with our Christian obligation to vote on behalf of the Lord.

Science was almost a swear word in my town. I remember the day my high school science teacher smugly said, and I paraphrase, “The Department of Ed says I have to teach you evolution. But I am not going to fill your heads with that kind of nonsense. We did not come from monkeys; we came directly from God’s hand.” I don’t think any of us knew this was illegal.

Annoying, definitely. But none of us raised a hand to object. A few students in the back of the class snickered when she mentioned “evolving from monkeys,” but we just moved on to the Genesis Chapter One version of the Earth’s origin for our geology lesson.

That was around 1988, before the internet changed the world. One would think, 30-plus years later, these kinds of blatant violations of religious freedom rights would be a thing of the past. Sadly, they aren’t. All across the country, citizens of little towns with more fundamentalist churches than gas stations still bow their heads during official prayers at public school football games and shake them at those poor misguided teachers who are “lost” enough to believe in and teach evolution.

Growing up and going to public school in a place like that can be lonely for a freethinker. You feel gaslighted by everyone around you. Whether directly or indirectly, your freedom to be who you are, to think freely, to love who you love is denied. Being the only person in a family or community who doesn’t believe in Christianity is muzzling. Independently speaking out against a Christian nationalist majority can be dangerous. Sometimes the only protection you have is the existence of things like our First Amendment – legal provisions that confirm you are not insane or damned for thinking independently. This is why AU’s Know Your Rights campaign and guides are so important. It’s cliché for a reason – knowledge really is power.

Americans United fights every day to educate and defend everyone’s right to believe – or not – by protecting and strengthening the wall between religion and government. The Know Your Rights guides are an important resource for anyone whose religious freedom rights are being violated and a lifeline to everyone who works to protect church-state separation in our public schools.

Read them. Download them. Share them. Someone somewhere will be thankful you did.

Amy Couch is digital communications manager at Americans United



Our Public Schools Must Leave No One Behind. I Work To Ensure That.

By Richard B. Katskee

The launch of Americans Uni­ted’s Know Your Rights campaign has led many of us on staff to recall stories of our experiences with religion in public schools. Some of these memories can be painful, but it’s important that the stories be told.

Here is mine:

I grew up in Omaha, Neb., a city of 450,000, with a Jewish community of around 6,000. My family lived in a different part of town from where most of the Jewish families lived, so my sister and I were the only Jews in our elementary school.

We knew that our public schools weren’t designed with us in mind. I felt cheated that I couldn’t ever earn a perfect-attendance award because being out for the High Holidays counted against me. And my parents had us participate in the religious activities at school – the Christmas concert, the Easter art projects, and all the rest – because they wanted us to fit in.

It felt weird to sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas pageant, but my mother assured me that “it’s just a song.” And when the music teacher in first grade found out about our family’s Jewish faith and decided that I couldn’t be a “skating reindeer,” it didn’t feel so great. Singing “Silent Night,” fine; wearing a reindeer mask and sliding around the stage in socks, not okay. Go figure?

But my personal experience of being a religious minority wasn’t bad, even if we were always aware of being different.

In third grade, though, I witnessed something that has stuck with me ever since.

Where I was the one Jewish kid, my classmate Paul was the one Jehovah’s Witness. Unlike my parents, who had us participate in all the activities so that we didn’t stand out, Paul’s parents weren’t willing to have him go along to get along.

Knowing what I know now, that isn’t a surprise. It was Jehovah’s Witnesses who in the 1940s challenged requirements that public-school students had to stand, salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Back then, the words “under God” weren’t in the Pledge yet. That was a product of the postwar red scare in the 1950s. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, flags are graven images. It doesn’t matter what the words of the Pledge are; to them, saluting and pledging allegiance to a flag is idolatry.

In the 1930s, Jehovah’s Witness children who refused to salute the flag were expelled from public schools in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and their parents were put in jail. At the same time, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps for not saluting the Nazi flag.

Paul, in my third-grade class, didn’t pledge allegiance to the flag. He didn’t draw Santa Clauses or Easter Bunnies. And he didn’t sing in the Christmas concert.

Our school had one of those big multipurpose rooms – what they now call a “cafetorium.” It was the gym, but with a stage on one side so that folding chairs could be set up on the floor for performances. At the far end were doors to the lunch line. And there were tables and benches that pulled out from the other wall to convert the gym into the lunchroom.

Every afternoon all December long, we’d rehearse for the Christmas concert. So our teacher would send Paul to the assistant principal, who would take him to the cafetorium, pull out one of those long tables, and have him sit there, all alone, to wait.

The teachers and administrators probably thought that they were being respectful. I’m sure that they never considered how it must feel to have to go to the assistant principal’s office every day – the place you were sent for serious misbehavior.

And every day when we marched past the gym on the way to and from rehearsals, we’d see Paul through the long, thin windows in the gym door – you know, the ones with the crisscrossed wires running through the glass so that the windows won’t break if a ball hits them. We’d see Paul sitting there, looking sad and lonely. And kids would point at him and ask, “What’s that weirdo doing? Why isn’t he with the rest of us? What’s wrong with him?”

I think about Paul almost every day. He’s a big part of why I do the work that I do. I go to court to try to ensure that those of us, like Paul, who don’t share the majority’s religious beliefs, aren’t told that we don’t belong.

Through efforts like the Know Your Rights campaign, Americans United works to ensure that there are no more Pauls in our public schools. I’m pleased to be part of that work, which is only possible thanks to your support.

Richard B. Katskee is vice president and legal director for Americans United.


A Coach At My High School Wanted To Pressure Students To Pray. AU Made Him Stop.

By Samantha Sokol

The public high school I attended, East Brunswick High School in central New Jersey, was and still is a microcosm of our country’s religious diversity. My classmates were Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Egyptian Copts, Catholics, Protestants and atheists. While there wasn’t perfect harmony all the time, our school district aimed to protect the religious freedom rights of everyone. But in 2005, when I was in the eighth grade, that goal was put to the test.

That year, a few football players, cheerleaders and parents alerted the superintendent that the high school football coach was leading Christian prayers before games, at team dinners and in the locker room. Coach Marcus Borden – or Señor Borden, as I knew him, because he also taught Spanish class – was leading prayers, taking a knee, bowing his head in participation and asking that all students stand and join in. And he told students who were uncomfortable during the prayer that they could wait in the bathroom until it was over.

Right away, our school did the right thing. The superintendent told Borden that he could not lead, encourage or participate in student prayer. This is exactly what the U.S. Constitution requires. Federal courts have consistently held that public school employees are forbidden to lead, initiate or participate in religious activities involving students, even when those activities occur before or after school. School staff must not participate in the students’ prayer in any way, and this means that coaches may not take a knee for player-led prayer before or after games. To be clear, students can lead genuinely voluntary and student-initiated prayer as long as it is not coercive or disruptive. But Borden wanted to violate the law and participate.

Unfortunately, Borden sued the school district, alleging that officials had violated his religious freedom rights. But the district had simply followed the Constitution. The case wound its way through the courts, and eventually, the school district got a new set of lawyers in their effort to protect students’ religious freedom: the attorneys at Americans United for Separation of Church and State!

A federal appeals court not only rejected Borden’s arguments that he had a First Amendment right to lead or join his students in prayer, but also concluded that his conduct actually violated that amendment. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2009, thus preserving AU’s victory on the school district’s behalf.

While I wouldn’t work at AU for another decade, I already knew that Borden’s conduct was wrong in 2005. Public schools are a unifying force in our diverse community. But a coach and teacher leading Christian prayers made many students – including me – feel alienated in our own school.

I remember Borden as a great coach and enthusiastic Spanish teacher. But even if they don’t mean to, a coach and teacher leading a prayer sends the message that every kid should join in – or they might never make it off the bench at the game or get extra credit in Spanish class. While I wasn’t on the football team or the cheerleading squad, I remember feeling frustrated that a coach and teacher was imposing his religious beliefs on our classmates.

As a Jewish student, hearing a Christian prayer endorsed by a teacher at a school event would really hurt. And unfortunately, some other students who supported Borden made hateful and anti-Semitic comments online about the Jewish students they believed had complained to the district in the first place. It divided our community and made religious minorities, including me, feel unsafe and unwelcome. All of this could have been avoided if the coach had simply followed the law.

But there’s a hero in this story: my public school district! I feel fortunate that I attended a public school that defended the religious freedom rights of all students. Their actions protected students like me and ensured that our school could remain welcoming to students of all faiths and none for years to come.

If you’re a student or teacher at a public school, you should get familiar with our new Know Your Rights guides so that you can be a defender of religious freedom, too. If you see a violation like this one in your public schools, you can report it to AU. Who knows – one day, Americans United attorneys might be headed to court in your town to advocate for your religious freedom!

Samantha Sokol is policy advocate at Americans United.


How The Ten Commandments Led Me To Americans United

By Liz Hayes

In a round­­­­about way, it was a Ten Commandments display at a public high school that led me to Americans United.

I was a journalist in 2012 when I began reporting on a legal chal­lenge involving a huge Ten Commandments monument in front of a public high school outside Pittsburgh. Local families, assisted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, had filed lawsuits after that school district and another in the region refused to remove the displays.

Although I’d grown up in the area and had been to this high school countless times for work, I typically used doors around the side of the building and had never seen the display up close. I had assumed the taller-than-me stone monument in front of the building was inscribed with the name of the school, or perhaps a dedication to students or school leaders. I was stunned and disappointed to learn the district had been displaying the Ten Commandments between the school gym and student parking lot for more than half a century.

I was equally disappointed, but not terribly surprised, by the community’s reaction to the lawsuit. Insults and threats were lobbed at the mom who was the lead plaintiff. Rallies and prayer vigils were held, and a Facebook group was created in support of the monument. School officials made what seemed to be conflicting arguments for keeping the display – hardly anyone even knew it was there, but also it was an important historical touchstone for the community. There was little compassion for children who might feel ostracized by a monument declaring a particular religious view.

This was essentially my community. I had grown up nearby and attended the neighboring public school district. From what I can recall, I think my small district generally did a decent job respecting the separation of church and state. I don’t remember any prayers or Bible reading in school, and I didn’t learn until I was an adult that some people didn’t believe in evolution.

And yet, from the classroom Christmas parties and Christmas carols, to Easter holiday breaks, to my school bus that also stopped at a local Catholic private school, there was a presumption that everyone was Christian. It was anxiety-inducing when I realized in high school that I didn’t believe in God – it felt like something I should hide to avoid being singled out. My school didn’t have a Ten Commandments display (that I know of), but that probably was less because of respect for students’ religious freedom and more because the school hadn’t been built yet in the 1950s when Eagles clubs were donating thousands of monuments to schools and communities across the nation.

The phrase “Christian nationalism” wasn’t in my vocabulary then, but I felt it nonetheless – the impression I was somehow less patriotic, less Am­eri­can because I wasn’t Christian like I assumed everyone else was. It felt like such a daring thing to my 16-year-old self when I stopped saying the words “under God” when we recited the Pledge of Allegiance (I certainly wasn’t brave enough to stop saying the Pledge altogether, as was within my rights, unbeknownst to me).

That’s why, 15 or so years later, I thought it was very brave for the mom, Marie Schaub, to speak up and challenge that Ten Commandments display. By trying to make her daughter’s high school more welcoming and inclusive for all students, she was challenging the perhaps subconscious – but very real – Christian nationalist mindset of the community. And they let her know they didn’t appreciate her efforts.

Although Americans United didn’t represent Marie, AU was one of the organizations that filed a legal brief supporting her case. As I reported on the litigation, I learned about AU, and its vision really resonated with me – that the separation of church and state is what protects the rights of everyone to believe, or not, as we choose. There can be no religious freedom, no equality, without it.

And so, it felt like it was meant to be a few years later when I saw a job posting for AU just as I was looking to leave journalism and move to advocacy communications.

I’m proud of the work AU does – including the “Know Your Rights” guides we just released. My teenage self would have benefitted from knowing what my rights were, and the assurance that not everyone has the same beliefs about religion. And not only is that OK, but it’s inherently, fundamentally American.

My only regret is that I didn’t get to report on Marie’s victory in the case. Just a few months after I left the newspaper, the district agreed to donate the monument to a private Cath­olic school in the community. It was such an obvious solution that benefited everyone. I just wish it had been reached five years – or five decades – sooner.    

Liz Hayes is associate vice president of communications for Americans United.


You’ve Read Our Stories. Now Tell Us Yours.

Did you have a noteworthy experience — positive or negative — with religion in a public school? Whether it happened 50 years ago or last week, we’d like to hear about it. Send your stories to Church & State at [email protected]. We’ll print a selection in an upcoming issue. 

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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