What to do if your school is violating the separation of church and state
Several times a year, the SSA office is made aware of a violation of church and state in a public high school. There are a number of common complaints we receive:
- School-endorsed prayers at graduation, sporting events, or before tests (See the case of Lee v. Wiseman).
- Insertion of religious ideas such as creationism into the classroom (See the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District).
- Stonewalling the formation of a secular club (See the Equal Access Act).
There are a lot of other ways it happens. If you're curious as to whether or not your school is in violation of the Establishment Clause, please contact Our High School Specialist and tell him about your situation.
If you attend a public high school and believe your school is violating the separation of church and state, there are some steps you should follow to make sure something can be done about it.
- Contact a secular organization. Our High School Specialist can answer any questions you may have and provide advice on the best course of action to take.
Often, the school isn't even aware that what they're doing is inappropriate until a student brings it up. A friendly conversation with the teacher or faculty is a good first step. We offer free "Nontheistic Students in Your High School" brochures that you can give to administrators to help them understand that secular students are important but often misunderstood members of the community.
If you wish to remain anonymous or if your conversation didn't have the desired effect, we can contact your school on your behalf.
- Though our goal is to get your school to understand your position and change its policy, should the need for legal intervention arise we can connect you with one of a host of organizations that can help such as American Atheists, the ACLU , the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
If you find yourself in this situation, please fill out our help request form.
- Record everything! If there is a prayer at a graduation, try to get it on tape. If a coach is leading his team in prayer, try to record it. If you speak with a school administrator and have the capability to capture the audio, do so. If emails were exchanged, try to hang onto them, etc. It can be very important to have specific examples of violations to cite.
- Get a supportive group. Even though the law has repeatedly come down on the side of secularism, there is sometimes a tremendous amount of backlash from communities where students have asked their schools to abide by the law. Should that wind up being the case, you will be glad you have friends and supporters by your side. Check our list of schools with Secular Student Alliance affiliates - there might be one in your area! Search sites like meetup.com for local skeptic groups or consider forming a Secular Student Alliance club at your school .
These are just the initial steps. Hopefully your school's administration will give you equal treatment and elect to live by their legal responsibilities. If they don't, it's best to trust in the SSA and the organizations like the ones listed above who deal with this type of situation on a day-to-day basis rather than going solo.
We realize that it is not an easy task to ask your school to change their policies. We are here to make sure you don't have to do it alone.