Resources

The First Amendment: Matters regarding religious speakers

Prepared by Eli Baumwell

Q: Why is it problematic for a school to bring in religious speakers?

A: Not all religious speakers are problematic in a school setting, but the First Amendment protects freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Schools are state actors and therefore cannot endorse, support, or promote a religion or religious view. This applies to school officials and speakers invited to address students during school hours. So, while a speaker may be a religious person, they are not permitted to promote that religion to students in a school setting.

Q: Doesn’t the speaker have free speech rights?

A: Yes. Speakers enjoy First Amendment protections and can speak generally about religion. However, the school has a responsibility to make sure that speakers do not violate the rights of students by proselytizing any specific religious viewpoints.

Q. As school officials, what can we do to check the content?

A: Begin by setting boundaries and expectations for the presentation. Make sure the speaker understands policies regarding the expression of specific religious viewpoints. Ask the speaker for a copy or recording of the presentation in advance. If you know of others who have invited the speaker, it doesn’t hurt to check with them as well.

Q: What if the topic of the speech is something else like suicide prevention or drug prevention?

A: Often proselytizing organizations use legitimate topics to get into schools and then promote a religious message. Again, it is up to school officials to vet speakers. Speakers may mention that a religious faith can be a tool in combatting drug addiction, but should not get into promoting specific religious views.

Q: What if a student group asks to bring the speaker in?

A: If the school is providing a platform for the speaker during school hours and mandating attendance at the speech, then the same rules apply. Schools should still vet speakers even when brought in by student organizations to ensure proper content.

Q: What if it is a voluntary program?

A: Making a program voluntary is not necessarily a “cure” for a proselytizing speaker. If there is pressure from school officials to attend, or incentives to attend, a program is not actually voluntary. Additionally, even if it is purely voluntary, students should be properly notified about any content that could be objectionable or impact their rights to be free from religious viewpoints.

Q: What should a school do if a speaker goes off script?

A: School officials have an affirmative duty to protect students’ rights. It would be appropriate to intervene and stop a speaker that is engaging in proselytizing. Afterwards, the school should clarify to students that the school does not endorse religious viewpoints. They should then notify parents of the potential harm and the steps that were taken to vet the speaker first.

Baumwell is Interim Executive Director, ACLU-WV
https://westvirginiawatch.com/author/eli-baumwell/

Recommended by educator

Beautiful Me Paperback – December 4, 2020


by Rachel Malone Saar (Author), Jack Golden (Illustrator)

Every child wants to see themselves and a family similar to their own depicted in beautifull art. It is also important for children to see families that do not look like their own. Beautiful Me is a book that encourages children to celebrate diversity and acceptance. It offers a creative and fun way to embrace blended families, different races, and many different ethnic backgrounds. Children in the story Beautiful Me are reminded that they are beautiful and that families do not have to match. Beautiful Me allows children to see families of mixed race, blended ethnicity, and adoption. Join in on this fun rhyming and beautifully illustrated story of acceptance!

About the author –

As a biracial child who did not look biracial, Rachel Saunders Saar grew up never seeing representations of families like her own in books. She loves seeing blended families and beautiful children of all races, ethnicities, and characteristics. Rachel’s desire for all children to embrace the beauty in themselves and their families inspired her to write her first book, Beautiful Me. Rachel has always enjoyed being creative and producing art. She particularly enjoys painting and writing. Rachel wanted books that inspire, empower, intrigue, spark curiosity, and promote acceptance and inclusion while providing stunning illustrations. She noticed a need for books encouraging children to be proud of their skin, family, hair, shape, and wonderful uniqueness while accepting others for theirs.

Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts-Criminal Justice with minors in Spanish and Psychology from Marshall University. She has worked as a Social Worker in multiple settings, owned and operated a boutique children’s party business, worked in her family-operated Forensic Psychology practice, and worked as a substitute teacher and a travel planner. She believes there is always time to follow your dreams. Rachel enjoys time with her husband and is most proud of being a Mom to four incredible children.

Available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Me-Rachel-Malone-Saar/dp/0578764105 or Taylor Books, Charleston / https://www.taylorbooks.com

Recommended by elected official

Contact Bill of Rights Institute for curricular resources relating to U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and other documents.
Website: https://billofrightsinstitute.org/
https://billofrightsinstitute.org/curricula/documents-of-freedom

Legislature doins

2024 REGULAR SESSION
January 10 – March 9, 2024

West Virginia Constitution
Article 2 § 2-2. Powers of government in citizens.

The powers of government reside in all the citizens of the state, and can be rightfully exercised only in accordance with their will and appointment. – https://www.wvlegislature.gov/WVCODE/WV_CON.cfm#preamble

Tally

Day of Session Adjourned Sine Die
Days Remaining 0
Bills introduced 2575
(Senate 877 Bills / House of Delegates 1698 Bills)
Bills adopted 279 Bills
(156 Senate Bills / 123 House Bills )
Governor’s action
Bills signed by governor: 268 bills;
Bills becoming law without governor’s signature: 2;
Bills vetoed: 8;
Bill Pending Governor’s Signature: 1.
(Source:
https://www.wvlegislature.gov/Bill_Status/ActionsbyGov.cfm?year=2024&sessiontype=RS&btyp
e=bill)

Legislative guiding principles:

“All legislative experiments in the way of making forcible distribution of the wealth produced in any country have failed.” – Leland Stanford (1824 – 1893), U.S. businessman.