The First Amendment on Religious Liberty

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According to the first amendment, the law regards no religion, but allows its citizens to exercise their free will and practice any religion they want. In educational institutions, religious symbols are not referred to or taught except it is required, and its use should be scrutinized to determine if there is an influence in any manner to the opinions of those learning. In light of a situation where a student makes religious mentions in his project or assignment, the teacher has to be discreet in disclosing the contents of the piece so as to avoid negative impacts on other students. They are only allowed to lecture on religion if the content is attacehd to the scholarly objectives and they do not endeavor to make students accept as true a certain religion’s belief or non-belief (Lively & Weaver, 2009). This implies that as long as the student uses such religious symbols in line with a topic’s objectives, and that there is supporting evidence why they choose such symbol, then it would be right to display their work for critique by fellow scholars.

As a teacher, I ought to respect the student’s right of free expression while still avoiding displays that may seem to favor one faith over another. This week’s topic aimed at letting students write an essay about their hero, and further support their essay with a pictorial representation of their hero. How they represent the image should proof the heroic act of the symbol they choose and not the religious superiority. In the case, Settle v. Dickson County School Board, the teacher, Ms. Ramsey, had allowed her students to choose an “interesting, researchable and decent” research topic (Settle v. Dickson County School Board, (6th Cir.1995)). One of her students, Brittney, choose to write about “A Scientific and Historical Approach to Jesus Christ”.

In her argument, Ms. Ramsey found it difficult to grade the paper as the plaintiff might consider the grading too personal (Settle v. Dickson County School Board, (6th Cir.1995)). She feared that the law prohibited such kind of religious paper in public classrooms and hence no grading should be accorded. Even though the court ruled in favor of Ms. Ramsey, I find it important to strike a balance between a scholar’s freedom of expression in classrooms and the instructor’s right to control the class. Research papers and essays are not opinion papers and are submitted for grading purposes only and not publication in school forums (Shaw & Lisa, 1998). Thus, a teacher should grade the paper based on content and rubric of such grading.

According to the Supreme Court, students are not to shed their constitutionally earned rights to freedom of expression at the school gates (Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 1969). However, a student’s act of expression should neither upset classwork nor infringe on the rights of their fellow students. In my case, I will grade the student not because by not grading I would be offending his first amendment right, rather the student was writing in line with the research topic. There were no limits to the choices the students could make or symbols they could use. If the essay proves heroism in Jesus and the picture accompanying the essay confirms the same heroism, I would grade the student and display the works of this student to the rest.

In a court ruling whether a school principal has the right to censor publications in the school newspaper due to inappropriate content, the court noted that a school should not put up with student dialogue which is inconsistent with its “basic educational mission” (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 1988). This case proved that teachers have the right to control the content a student writes or publishes in school-sponsored activities such as forums and newspapers. Since the student’s essay on a person they perceive to be their hero was not to be published on any of the school-based activities and was only meant to appreciate their ability to research and explain how heroic their symbol was, it would be wrong not to display his artwork to his fellow students with the aim to explain heroism in Jesus.

References

First Amendment | Constitution | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260. (1988)

Lively, D. E., & Weaver, R. L. (2009). Contemporary supreme court cases: Landmark decisions since Roe v. Wade. Westport, Con. [etc.: Greenwood Press.

Settle v. Dickson County School Board (6th Cir.1995). (n.d.). Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. doi:10.4135/9781604265774.n1186

Shaw, Lisa C. (1998). Student-Initiated Religious Speech, the Classroom, and the First Amendment: Why the Supreme Court Should Have Granted Review in Settle v. Dickson County School Board. DigitalCommons@Pace.

Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506, 89 S.Ct. 733, 736, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969)

Weaver, R. L., & Lively, D. E. (2003). Understanding the First Amendment. Newark, NJ: LexisNexis/Matthew Bender.

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