One of the most fulfilling parts of my job is assisting parents who contact the MFI office for help.  Often, they call because their son or daughter came home from school and they can’t believe what their child saw or heard that day in Sex Ed class.  We’ve been working with Massachusetts Informed Parents to expose some pretty egregious material circulating in our Commonwealth’s public schools. 

Another issue that drives a lot of calls to us is the violation of students’ rights to freedom of religion at school.  Whether it’s administrators trying to block a student led Bible Club from forming or teachers preventing students from handing out invitations to their church, I’m often able to help parents by equipping them with the law so they can “educate the educators.” 

Now we have another great resource for empowering students and their parents to protect religious freedom at school.  Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education issued updated guidance on school prayer. It is precisely the strong, clear legal guidance parents and students need to push back against hostile (or simply misinformed) school officials on important religious issues and the document covers much more than just prayer. Some highlights include:

–          Bible Clubs: “Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and “see you at the pole” gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities.”

–          Religion Expression in Class Assignments: “Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious perspective of their submissions.”

–          Prayer and Devotionals: “[S]tudents may read their Bibles, Torahs, Korans, or other scriptures; say grace before meals; and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities.”

–          Distribution of Religious Literature: “Students have a right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities.”

On the flip side, I have also been receiving a growing number of complaints about children being instructed to participate in what can only be described as pagan rituals in class.  I know that may sound far-fetched, but two recent episodes in Massachusetts involve 1.) making voodoo dolls as part of a lesson on the play “The Crucible,” and 2.) fifth-graders processing down a hallway lined with other young students, while dressed in black and white and carrying lanterns in observation of the Winter Solstice.  Obviously, there are a number of things wrong with these scenarios, and under no circumstances are schools allowed to compel students into participating.  The federal guidance addresses this as well, saying, “… teachers and other public school officials, acting in their official capacities, may not lead their classes in… religious activities, nor may school officials use their authority to attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities.”

The renewed guidance from the Dept of Education also informs schools that they are required to annually certify their compliance with these laws, as well as report any alleged violations, in order to continue to receive federal funding.  In Massachusetts, this amounts to over $300 million a year

Proponents of Comprehensive Sexuality Education claim that it reduces pregnancy and rates of sexually transmitted infections among teens. But does it? Stan E. Weed and Irene H. Ericksen of The Institute for Research and Evaluation, a nonprofit research organization that has been evaluating sex ed programs for 25 years, have re-evaluated the data used to defend Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Out of the 60 school-based CSE studies examined, they found no evidence of continued effectiveness at reducing teen pregnancy or instance of sexually transmitted infections. Comprehensive Sexuality Education also did not achieve additional targeted outcomes, producing an 88% failure rate for delayed sexual activity for teens and a 94% failure rate for reducing unprotected sex.

Contact Massachusetts Family Institute at 781-569-0400 if you believe your child may have had their religious liberty violated or if you or your school have any questions about the laws on this issue.  Especially with this new federal guidance as a resource, we can help you protect the rights of your child.