ACLU Releases Video, Legal Bulletin on Religion in Public Schools


ACLU Releases Video, Legal Bulletin on Religion in Public Schools; Intensifies Campaign to Counter Misleading Assertions by Far Right

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 12, 1993

NEW YORK -- Intensifying its national campaign to preserve religious liberty in America, the American Civil Liberties Union today distributed a new legal bulletin to more than 16,000 school superintendents around the country and announced the release of a new 35-minute video titled "America's Constitutional Heritage: Religion and Our Public Schools."

The video, the first ever produced by the ACLU, is a direct response to a video, "America's Godly Heritage," being distributed by several organizations on the far right. That video, which was produced by Wallbuilders, a Texas company, argues that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation.

Ira Glasser, ACLU Executive Director, said the far right's increased attempts should deeply concern all Americans who care about religious freedom. "In many parts of the country, school administrators and school board members are coming under increasingly intense pressure from organized groups to sacrifice the nation's commitment to religious liberty," he said. "Our legal bulletin and video are designed to give administrators and parents the information they need to make the best possible choices for their schools, their children and their communities."

The Legal Bulletin, "The Establishment Clause and Public Schools," was prepared by the ACLU's Legal staff to help school administrators who are being pressured to permit graduation prayer, Bible distribution in public schools, displays of religious symbols and observance of religious holidays. The Bulletin also clarifies religious groups' right to equal access to schools and the free speech rights of religious groups and individuals.

The video -- narrated by Rev. W.W. Finlator, the former pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. -- features the stories of several courageous families who challenged religious practices in their public schools as well as additional information from a renowned constitutional law scholar and Jonathan Kozol, the author of the landmark book, Savage Inequalities.

In the video's introductory section, Rev. Finlator expresses agreement with many Americans who are concerned about the crisis of values in our society, and concurs with those who believe that the best way to strengthen values in our country is to reach out to the next generation. But he warns against allowing the public schools to usurp what has long been a parental right and responsibility:

"Some people, however, want to take that right and responsibility away from parents," he says. "They want to bring religion to our children in another way. Not through parents at home, or in church, but through the public schools."

As a companion to the video, the ACLU will soon release a new installment in its popular educational briefing series titled "Ask Sybil Liberty." The new "briefer" will focus on a student's right to religious liberty.

"We recognize that the First Amendment's protections for religion in America are not widely understood," Glasser said. "This has led to the mistaken belief that the Founder's demand for separation of church and state were motivated by hostility toward religion, when, in fact, they sought to guarantee true religious liberty."

The bulletin and video are part of the ACLU's continuing effort to combat misleading information being distributed by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. Robertson's group and others on the far right have mailed several letters to school administrators around the country arguing that certain religious practices, including graduation prayer, are constitutionally permissible.

In his letter to school superintendents, the ACLU's Glasser said that he recognizes that school administrators are confronting difficult decisions involving the complex issues that relate to religion and the public schools.

Urging superintendents and other school leaders to contact the ACLU if they need additional assistance, Glasser says, "an environment in our public schools that is hospitable to religious diversity, and that fosters respect for the Constitution, is in the best interest of us all."

ACLU Free Reading Room. A publications and information resource of the American Civil Liberties Union National Office.
Go Back to Shy David's American Civil Liberties Union Page.