What guidance does the U.S. Department of Education provide on the role of religion in the public schools. In particular, is there guidance on school prayer, religious holidays, religious songs and religion in the curriculum?
The relationship between religion and government in the United States is governed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which both prevents the government from establishing religion and protects privately initiated religious expression and activities from government interference and discrimination.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment requires public school officials to be neutral in their treatment of religion, showing neither favoritism toward nor hostility against religious expression such as prayer. Accordingly, the First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by private individuals.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) required the Secretary of Education to issue guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools . For more information on prayer in public schools, please refer to this guidance.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), P.L. 114-95
, was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015. ESSA reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In the coming months, the U.S. Department of Education will work with states and districts to begin implementing the new law. For more information regarding ESSA visit: http://www.ed.gov/essa.