Law & Policy

A number of federal and state laws and guidance shape the parameters of religious expression in schools.

Federal Resources

  • The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes a prohibition on the establishment of religion, the Establishment Clause, and on interfering with an individual’s free exercise of religion, the Free Exercise Clause, stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” U.S. Const. Amend. I.
  • The First Amendment also prohibits interference with an individual’s freedom of speech, the Free Speech Clause, stating that, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” U.S. Const. Amend. I.
  • Plaintiffs may sue the government for violations of the First Amendment through Section 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e - 2000e-17, prohibits discrimination in employment:  “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s … religion. . . .”  42 U.S.C. § 2000 e-2.
  • The Equal Access Act, 20 U.S.C.  § 4071, requires districts to permit student clubs of a religious nature to meet on school property, subject to the same rules and privileges as other non-curricular student groups. 
  • The Department of Education Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools provides guidance on the current state of the law regarding religious expression in schools. 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination provides guidance on handling employee complaints of religious discrimination. 

Texas Resources

  • The Texas Constitution Freedom of Worship Clause, Texas Constitution article I, section 6, forbids the preference of one religion over another and offers protections for individual religious expression.
  • The Texas Equal Rights Amendment, Texas Constitution article I, section 3a, prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code chapter 110, prohibits a government agency from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion unless the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
  • Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, Texas Labor Code chapter 21, subchapter B, prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion.
  • Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code chapter 106 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • The Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act, Texas Education Code sections 25.151 – 25.156, includes provisions addressing student religious expression at schools, with a particular focus on student speakers and access of student religious groups to district facilities.
  • The Bible course statute, Texas Education Code section 28.011, provides that school districts may offer an elective course on the content, history, literary style, and influence of the Old and New Testaments.
  • Texas Education Code section 25.087 requires that a district must excuse a student from attending school for the purpose of observing religious holy days, including traveling for that purpose. 
  • The voluntary prayer statute, Texas Education Code section 25.901, protects students' right to individually, voluntarily, and silently pray in a nondisruptive manner at school.
  • The school uniform exemption statute, Texas Education Code section 11.162, permits parents to seek an exemption from a school uniform requirement or request a transfer to a campus without such a requirement based on a bona fide religious objection.
  • Under the immunization exemption statute and regulation, Texas Education Code section 38.001 and 25 Texas Administrative Code section 97.62,  immunization is not required for admission to public school with a proper affidavit stating that the applicant declines immunization for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief. 
  • Texas Health and Safety Code sections 36.005, 37.002, and 95.003 and 25 Texas Administrative Code sections 37.23 and 37.148 require districts to exempt students from certain medical assessments based on request of parents who cite conflicts with the parents' or students' religious beliefs.
  • The temporary removal statute, Texas Education Code section 26.010, permits parents to temporarily remove their children from classes or school activities that conflict with their religious beliefs.
  • Texas Education Code section 25.082 permits exemptions to the required recitation of the U.S. and Texas Pledges of Allegiance to be granted on the request of students’ parents.
  • The educator absence statute, Texas Education Code section 21.406, prohibits a district from denying a salary, bonus, or similar compensation, based in whole or part on attendance, to an educator on the basis of an absence for observation of a holy day observed by a qualified religion.

TASB Recommended Policies

TASB Policy Service issues recommended policies, prepared with the assistance of Legal Services attorneys, as well as starting points to aid districts in creating local policies on such topics as the Texas Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act and student expression.

TASB policies cover several topics related to student religious expression:

  • Pledges of Allegiance and moments of silence, found at policies EC(LEGAL) and EC(LOCAL)
  • Exemption from instruction based on religious belief, found at policy EMB(LEGAL)
  • Prohibition on religious discrimination of a student, found at policy FB(LEGAL)
  • Prohibition on accepting or rejecting interdistrict transfers based on religion, found at policy FDA(LOCAL)
  • Excused absences for observing religious holy days, found at policies FEA(LEGAL), FEB(LEGAL), FEC(LEGAL), and FEC(LOCAL)
  • Exemption from certain medical assessments based on religious belief, found at policy FFAA(LEGAL)
  • Exemption from immunizations based on religious belief, found at  policy FFAB(LEGAL)
  • Prohibition on religious harassment, found at policy FFH(LOCAL)
  • Religious expression at graduation, found at policy FMH(LEGAL)
  • Religious expression generally, found at policies FNA(LEGAL) and FNA(LOCAL)
  • Distribution of materials, found at policies FNAA(LEGAL) and FNAA(LOCAL)
  • Facilities used by religious groups, found at policies FNAB(LEGAL) and FNAB(LOCAL)
  • Exemption from uniform requirements based on religious belief, found at policies FNCA(LEGAL) and FNCA(LOCAL)
  • Prohibition on religious discrimination in extracurricular standards of behavior, found at policy FO(LOCAL)
TASB policies also cover several topics related to employee religious expression:
  • Prohibition on religious discrimination in the nonrenewal of an employee, found at policies BJCF(LOCAL) and DFBB(LOCAL)
  • Prohibition on religious discrimination and harassment of an employee, found at policies DAA(LEGAL), DIA(LEGAL), and DIA(LOCAL)
  • Prohibition on denial of an attendance bonus based on an absence for observing a religious holy day, found at policy DEAA(LEGAL)
  • Absences for religious observances, found at policy DEC(LEGAL)
  • Prohibition on religious discrimination of an employee or a student by an employee, found at policy DH(EXHIBIT)
  • Teaching about religion, found at policies EMI(LEGAL) and EMI(LOCAL)