Union Of Orthodox Jewish Congregations Welcomes New Federal Guidance

Posted on February 10, 2003 In Press Releases

Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America welcomed the release late last week by Secretary of Education Rod Paige of federal “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.” The Guidance document was mandated by the education reform legislation passed last year by the U.S. Congress. The law requires that in order to receive federal education funds, public school districts must ensure and certify that their policies do not infringe upon the constitutionally protected religious liberties of their student population. The Guidance document is intended to help local officials examine their policies in this light.

The Guidance document follows in the path of similar documents issued previously by the Clinton Administration; it relies primarily upon analysis of Supreme Court rulings in the arena of educational institutions and religion. What is new, however, is that under the newly enacted law, this Guidance is not merely rhetorical – the prospect of losing federal funds will prod compliance. The Guidance document recognizes the basic principle that the “First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by private individuals.” The Guidance further notes the Supreme Court’s recognition that students do not “shed their constitutional rights…at the schoolhouse gate.” Thus, the Guidance provides that while schools and their officials may not mandate religious expression, they may also not interfere with religious expression undertaken privately and freely by students.

Union public policy director Nathan Diament issued the following statement:

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations welcomes the new Guidance document issued by the Department of Education. As part of its landmark education reform legislation last year, Congress and the President recognized that in too many instances, public school officials have demonstrated a lack of sensitivity to the religious liberties of students. The Guidance will be a useful tool in promoting religious liberty for America’s student population.