As students head back to school, churches can explore ways to become more involved with local schools. Unfortunately, many churches are under the impression that they cannot interact with schools because of the so-called “separation of church and state.” But the First Amendment dictates no such separation. In fact, it requires that churches receive the same access to schools as other community organizations. Here are a few suggestions for ways your church can get involved with local schools.
1. Start an After-School Bible Club: Many schools allow community groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to use school facilities for after-school meetings. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that churches have the right to use school facilities in the same ways as these community groups [Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98 (2001)]. If your school opens its facilities for after-school use, then your church can start a Bible club where students learn Bible stories, play games, do arts and crafts, and much more.
2. Support “See You at the Pole”: Every September, students, parents, and community members across the nation participate in “See You at the Pole,” a student-organized, student-led gathering at the school flagpole where students pray for their school, friends, teachers, government, and nation. The Supreme Court has upheld such student prayer, noting that “nothing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day” [Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 313 (2000)]. If students at your local school participate in this event, support them by helping organize and advertise the event.
3. Collect School Supplies for Children in Need: Many children start the first day of school lacking basic school supplies such as pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and other necessities. Contact your local school’s administration and ask for a list of student supplies needed. Your church can then hold a “School Supply Drive” and create backpacks filled with supplies for the school to distribute to children in need.
4. Publicize Your Events at School: Many schools allow community groups to distribute flyers to students to bring home or place information pamphlets in the school office. If your school allows community groups to do this, then your church has the right to promote its events in the same manner [Hills v. Scottsdale Unified Sch. Dist., 329 F.3d 1044, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (ruling that a school’s exclusion of summer camp brochure “because it offered Bible classes from a Christian perspective” was “impermissible viewpoint discrimination”)]. You can promote Vacation Bible School, a fall festival, or other church-sponsored events.
5. Adopt a Teacher: Public school teachers face enormous pressure—from improving test scores to maintaining discipline in a crowded classroom. Your church can show appreciation for the work teachers do by adopting one. You can send them a gift basket with a note thanking them for their work or even organize a Teacher Appreciation Week in the local community.
These are just a few of the ways your church can increase its involvement in local schools. Don’t be afraid to get involved. The First Amendment protects your right to actively participate in the same way as other community groups. Alliance Defending Freedom will stand with you in defending your right to do so. If you encounter any resistance when engaging in these activities, contact Alliance Defending Freedom to have an attorney promptly review your specific situation.