• Key point: Public school teachers do not necessarily have a constitutional right to teach creationism or engage in religious conversations with students during school hours.
• A federal appeals court ruled that a public school science teacher’s constitutional rights were not violated by a school policy requiring him to teach the theory of evolution, and prohibiting him from talking with students about religion during school hours. The court concluded that evolution is not a religion, and accordingly the teacher’s constitutional right to religious freedom was not violated by the school policy requiring him to teach evolution. The teacher also claimed that his constitutional right of free speech was violated by a school policy prohibiting him from “any attempt to convert students to Christianity or initiating conversations about [his] religious beliefs during instructional time” (which the school interpreted to mean any time that students were required to be on school property). The teacher claimed that he had a constitutional right to participate in student-initiated discussions about religious matters when not teaching a class. The court disagreed: “While at the high school, whether he is in the classroom or outside of it during contract time, [the teacher] is not just any ordinary citizen. He is a teacher. He is one of those especially respected persons chosen to teach in the high school’s classroom. He is clothed with the mantle of one who imparts knowledge and wisdom. His expressions of opinion are all the more believable because he is a teacher. The likelihood of high school students equating his views with those of the school is substantial. To permit him to discuss his religious beliefs with students during school time on school grounds would violate the [nonestablishment of religion] clause of the first amendment.” Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, 37 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994).
See Also: The Free Exercise Clause
© Copyright 1995, 1998 by Church Law & Tax Report. All rights reserved. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Church Law & Tax Report, PO Box 1098, Matthews, NC 28106. Reference Code: m47 c0695