Teachers' Bill of Rights - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

First Amendment Rights

Can a teacher express his/her faith during the workday and in public forums?

Can an employer discriminate against a teacher based on religion?

Must an employer accommodate a teacher’s religious faith?

Is a teacher protected from harassment from co-workers and supervisors based on his/her religious beliefs?

Can a teacher hold employee prayer groups or bible studies on campus?

Can a teacher participate in baccalaureate ceremonies?


First Amendment Rights

Can a teacher express his/her faith during the workday and in public forums?

Short Answer:
For the most part, yes, you have a right to express your faith during these times.



Legal Answer:

The Supreme Court of the United States clearly articulated that “First Amendment rights, applied in light of special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.”[1]

Teachers and administrators engaging in non-disruptive religious expression[2] unrelated to the scope of their official duties and professional capacity, and generally not in the presence of students[3], are protected by the First Amendment. [4] For example, a school cannot create a sweeping policy to prohibit all written or oral religious advocacy among its employees[5], or retaliate against a teacher for writing a religious-based letter to the local newspaper[6], or prohibit employees from wearing religious jewelry[7]

If a public school censors or prohibits your religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the public school’s actions violate your First Amendment freedoms, contact Liberty Institute at http://www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal/.

If this has been helpful, please consider donating.

Case Precedent:

[1] Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).

[2] Johnson v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., 658 F.3d 954, 966 (9th Cir. 2011); Tucker v. State of California Dept. of Educ., 97 F.3d 1204, 1210 (9th Cir. 1996).

[3] See Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001) ("We have said that a state interest in avoiding anEstablishment Clause violation 'may be characterized as compelling,' and therefore may justify content-based discrimination.") (citation omitted); Johnson v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., 658 F.3d 954, 967-68 (9th Cir. 2011); Roberts v. Madigan, 921 F.2d 1047, 1056-58 (10th Cir. 1990) (upholding school policy prohibiting teacher from placing Bible on his desk, reading Bible during silent reading period, and stocking two Christian books on shelves, because together they might give students the impression of state endorsement of religion); Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F.3d 517, 522 (9thCir. 1994) (upholding school policy prohibiting teacher from speaking with students about religion any time the students are on campus, including lunch break and the time before, between, and after classes); but see Wigg v. Sioux Falls School District 49-5, 382 F.3d 807 (8th Cir. 2004) (holding that a teacher’s participation in an after-school religious club is protected free speech and does not violate the Establishment Clause).

[4] Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418-22 (2006).

[5] Tucker v. State of California Dept. of Educ., 97 F.3d 1204 (9th Cir. 1996).

[6] See Pickering v. Bd. of Educ. of Twp. High Sch. Dist. 205, Will Cnty., Ill., 391 U.S. 563, 572-73 (1968)(striking down school’s firing of a teacher for writing newspaper editorial criticizing the Board of Education’s allocation of funds); but see Dixon v. Univ. of Toledo, 842 F.Supp.2d 1044, 1049-53 (N.D. Ohio 2012) (upholding university decision to fire Associate VP for Human Resourcesfor writing newspaper editorial referencing her religious views  on homosexuality, based on her policy-related position, “speculative” damage that might occur to the university, and a “presumptive insubordination” rule based on her speech conflicting with the position of the school).

[7] Nichol v. Arin Intermediate Unit 28, 268 F. Supp. 2d 536 (W.D. Penn. 2003); but seeBerry v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 447 F.3d 642, 652 (9th Cir. 2006) (upholding government agency’s policy prohibiting the display of religious items in employee’s cubicle because clients might reasonably interpret them as government endorsement of religion).

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Can an employer discriminate against a teacher based on religion?

Short Answer:
No, your employer cannot discriminate against you.



Legal Answer:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . . .”

Under this law, your employer cannot take any negative action against you because you are religious. Specifically, if other teachers are allowed to discuss various topics in the employee-only areas of the school, a school official cannot reprimand you for speaking about your faith there, unless it proves disruptive to the operation of the school.  If teachers are allowed to wear jewelry, then you have a right to wear a cross to school without being required to hide it.

If a public school censors or prohibits your religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the public school’s actions violate your First Amendment freedoms, contact Liberty Institute at http://www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal/.

If this has been helpful, please consider donating.

Case Precedent:

[16] Civil Rights Act of 1964, § 703 (a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).

[17] Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418–22 (2006); Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378, 388 (1987).

[18] Nichol v. Arin Intermediate Unit 28, 268 F. Supp. 2d 536 (W.D. Penn. 2003).

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Must an employer accommodate a teacher’s religious faith?

Short Answer:
Yes, your employer must accommodate your faith.



Legal Answer:

Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate their employees’ religious practices. In order to fall under the protection of Title VII, an employee must: (1) hold a sincere religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement; (2) inform the employer about the conflict; and (3) be discharged, disciplined, or subjected to discriminatory treatment for failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement.[1]

If your religious beliefs require you to share your faith with those around you or abstain from working certain days of the week, you are free to responsibly practice your beliefs without discrimination by your employer. If you employer has a policy that prohibits such religious practices, you should inform your employer of your sincerely held religious belief that conflicts with the policy. An employer must take steps to reasonably accommodate your religious needs. [2]

However, your employer is not required to accommodate your religious needs if doing so would be an undue hardship.[3] Undue hardship must be more than a mere inconvenience. Furthermore, schools may not attempt to hide behind “neutral rules”; employers must actively seek to accommodate an employee’s religious needs.[4] Because every situation is unique, it is important to contact Liberty Institute regarding the type of accommodation you should expect from your employer.

If a public school censors or prohibits your religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the public school’s actions violate your First Amendment freedoms, contact Liberty Institute at http://www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal/.

If this has been helpful, please consider donating.

Case Precedent:

[1]Dixon v. The Hallmark Cos., Inc., 627 F.3d 849, 855 (11th Cir. 2010); Heller v. EBB Auto Co., 8 F.3d 1433, 1438 (9th Cir. 1993);Smith v. Pyro Mining, 827 F.2d 1081, 1085 (6th Cir. 1987); Turpen v. Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Co., 736 F.2d 1022, 1026 (5th Cir. 1984).

[2]Civil Rights Act of 1964, § 701(j), 42 U.S.C § 2000e(j);Sanchez-Rodriguez v. AT & T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc., 673 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2012).

[3] Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 73-74 (1977); 29 C.F.R. § 1605.2(c); Cloutier v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 390 F.3d 126, 137 (1st Cir. 2004); Daniels v. City of Arlington, 246 F.3d 500 (5th Cir. 2001); Wilson v. U.S. West Commc’ns, 58 F.3d 1337, 1342 n.3 (8th Cir.1995).

[4] Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431 (1971) (“The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination, but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation”);Riley v. Bendix Corp., 464 F.2d 1113, 1115 (5th Cir. 1972).

 

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Is a teacher protected from harassment from co-workers and supervisors based on his/her religious beliefs?

Short Answer:
Yes, you have the right to be free from harassment because of your religious beliefs.



Legal Answer:

Not only must your employer accommodate your religious needs, your employer must also take steps to protect you from harassment for your religious beliefs and practice. First, just as discussed before, your employer must take steps to accommodate your religious needs, including protecting you from harassment by co-workers and supervisors because of your religion. Second, your employer must also protect you from a hostile work environment.[1]

The Supreme Court described a hostile work environment as one in which “the workplace is permeated with ‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult,' that is ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.’”[2] Not only must you believe the environment is abusive, it must also be objectively abusive, such that a reasonable person in your position would also find it abusive.[3] This requires more than “the run-of-the-mill boorish, juvenile, or annoying behavior that is not uncommon in American workplaces”[4] or “simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious).”[5]

Because this is a fact-intensive determination and all the circumstances must be considered, no precise test is available to determine whether an environment is “hostile” or “abusive.”[6] Therefore, please contact Liberty Institute regarding whether your work environment is sufficiently abusive to constitute a hostile work environment. 

 

If a public school censors or prohibits your religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the public school’s actions violate your First Amendment freedoms, contact Liberty Institute at http://www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal/.

If this has been helpful, please consider donating.

Case Precedent:

[1] Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 116 (2002).

[2]Id. (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993)); Morris v. City of Colo. Springs, 666 F.3d 654, 664 (10th Cir. 2012).

[3] Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., 523 U.S. 75 (1998); Morris v. City of Colo. Springs, 666 F.3d 654, 664 (10th Cir. 2012); EEOC v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc., 521 F.3d 306, 315 (4th Cir. 2008).

[4] Morris v. City of Colo. Springs, 666 F.3d 654, 664 (10th Cir. 2012).

[5] Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998).

[6]Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22-23 (1993); Hernandez v. V alley View Hosp. Ass'n, 684 F.3d 950, 957-58 (10th Cir. 2012).

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Can a teacher hold employee prayer groups or Bible studies on campus?

Short Answer:
Generally, yes, you have a right to hold employee religious meetings on campus.



Legal Answer:

If the school allows teachers to meet during non-instructional time in school facilities for various social purposes, such as meeting for social organizations or conversations on any topic, then the school is prohibited from barring the use of school facilities for employee-only prayer groups during non-instructional time.[1] However, if the school policy prohibits all “non-business related activity” in a particular room and does not use the room for multiple purposes, it can probably exclude employee prayer groups from that room.[2] According to the Department of Education, “before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activity.”[3] Likewise, if the school allows outside groups or individuals to use school facilities for meetings, then the school must give teachers the same access to school facilities for Bible study.[4] 

If a public school censors or prohibits your religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the public school’s actions violate your First Amendment freedoms, contact Liberty Institute at http://www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal/.

If this has been helpful, please consider donating.

Case Precedent:

[1] Compare Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001) (where school opens facilities for “variety of purposes” then it cannot prohibit use by a person or organization for religious purposes), with Berry v. Dep't of Soc. Servs.,447 F.3d 642, 654 (9th Cir.2006) (where Department of Social Services does not open particular room for “multiple purposes” but only for business-related purposes, it can prohibit its use for employee prayer meetings).

[2] Berry v. Dep't of Soc. Servs.,447 F.3d 642, 654 (9th Cir.2006).

[3] “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” U.S. Department of Education (Feb. 7, 2003)-- http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html; see also http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/significant-guidance.html.

[4] Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001); Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384 (1993).

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Can a teacher participate in baccalaureate ceremonies?

Short Answer:
Yes, you have a right to participate in these ceremonies.



Legal Answer:

Educators have the right to attend and participate in their personal capacities in privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies. The Department of Education issued specific guidelines making this clear to all school district in the United States.[1]

If a public school censors or prohibits your religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the public school’s actions violate your First Amendment freedoms, contact Liberty Institute at http://www.libertyinstitute.org/take-action/request-legal/.

If this has been helpful, please consider donating.

Case Precedent:
[1] “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” U.S. Department of Education (Feb. 7, 2003)-- http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html; see also http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/significant-guidance.html.

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