A Student Asks A Teacher If She Believes In God. What Is The Right Response?

A cross hangs from a teacher’s filing cabinet at a middle school in suburban Cleveland. (Photo by Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

It’s not uncommon for curious elementary, middle and high school students to ask questions about their teachers’ lives — including their religious beliefs.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you worship Allah? Are you Jewish?
Such questions can be challenging for teachers, especially those working in public schools, where the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits officials from from establishing or promoting religion.

 But public school teachers do have the right to answer direct questions about their faith, according to experts and advocates. And some groups, like the Christian Educators Association International, encourage teachers to take the opportunity to explain how religion guides their lives.
In answering questions about their faith while in class, teachers should be both honest and brief, taking care not to turn a question into an opportunity to preach, according to Charles Haynes, a First Amendment expert at the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center.

“They can’t use it as an opportunity to proselytize or invite kids to their synagogue or their church,” Haynes said. “But they can just answer the question and then go on and say, ‘But I’m here to teach fairly about various perspectives.”
Haynes said that many Americans have the mistaken impression that public schools are supposed to be religion-free zones. While the Constitution says that government cannot establish religion, it also says that the government cannot inhibit religious freedom — a provision that allows students, and to a lesser degree, teachers, to express their faith openly in school.

As agents of the government, teachers cannot inculcate religion at school, so they cannot lead students in prayer during class.

But they also are private citizens with rights to free speech — and many interpret that to mean they can pray with students at church on Sunday, for example.
Sometimes, the lines can begin to blur.

One Florida teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid spurring a backlash against her or her school, said she sometimes prays with students at the flagpole outside her school and steps away when a bell rings signifying the beginning of the work day.

"I had some colleagues say to me, your faith is supposed to be a private thing,” she said. But she said she is careful to abide by the law and believes her high school students understand that her faith doesn’t change the way she treats students in class.

Haynes, the First Amendment scholar, said courts examine whether a teacher’s behavior gives the appearance that the school is endorsing religion, and there’s no clear precedent guiding whether teachers may pray with students at the flagpole right before school.

But he said that constitutional experts and federal judges generally have agreed that teachers may pray with one another in their free time at school and may also sponsor after-school religious clubs for students, so long as they don’t lead or participate in prayer at school when they are in the company of students.
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students. Teachers may, however, take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities.
 Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities.

Source;The Washington Post
Edu News 5500002797775772015

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