Over 50 Pennsylvania Schools Districts Violate Constitutionally Protected Student Religious Speech

January 22, 2020 | No comments | Posted in education, Free Speech, Prayer | Tags:

Independence Law Center calls for districts to remedy policy violations.

(HARRISBURG, PA – January 22, 2020) Today, the Independence Law Center notified over 50 Pennsylvania school districts of their unconstitutional policies that target religious speech and are now calling on them to make the necessary changes to their policies and student handbooks.

“We’re asking all school districts in Pennsylvania to remove any policy that targets religious speech for censorship,” says Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel for the Independence Law Center.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration issued guidance in regard to student prayer. But many schools in Pennsylvania are discriminating against religious students in other ways as well, and these letters are aimed at stopping that unconstitutional discrimination in Pennsylvania schools.

“Instead of equal treatment, many schools have treated students’ religious speech like dangerous asbestos — to be cordoned off and eliminated from our schools,” stated Jeremy Samek, Senior Counsel for the Independence Law Center.

Some schools — like Pine Richland School District and Wilkinsburg School District near Pittsburgh — violate students’ constitutional rights by effectively forbidding students from saying that their religious viewpoints are correct.  Student speech asserting that a political idea, environmental policy, or football team is superior, however, is not prohibited by these schools. 

“Student speech shouldn’t be targeted simply because it involves religious rather than other topics,” added Samek.

Other schools — like Reading School District — target religious groups for discrimination as well.

Last year, the Independence Law Center was involved in stopping discriminatory actions against religious students in three Pennsylvania public schools. One school, Mechanicsburg Area School District, was taken to federal court after it prohibited students from offering Bibles to fellow students during non-instructional times like lunch.  The court ordered that school district to revise its unconstitutional policies.

The schools are asked to immediately cease enforcement of these unconstitutional policies; to remove the offending language; and to enact the new policies by April 1, 2020.

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Independence Law Center is a non-profit legal organization and civil rights law firm specializing in First Amendment issues.


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