Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles

Because the law in this area is constantly evolving, it may be helpful to keep in mind the following guidelines when thinking about the proper place of religion in the public schools:

  • There is an important difference between teaching about religion in order to educate and the teaching of religion so as to indoctrinate.

  • Schools should not engage in activities that a reasonable person would understand as endorsement of a particular religion, or religion generally.

  • School officials should be guided in their decision-making by sensitivity to the diversity of the student body and a respect for pluralism, which is fundamental to our democracy. Where appropriate, schools should accommodate the religious practices of individual students.

  • In the classroom, children are a captive audience and the younger the child, the less likely he or she will be able to draw distinctions between school endorsement and neutral academic instruction.

  • While it is important to know the law, legal resolution of conflicts may not be the first or best recourse or the only remedy. Many times, dialogue with school officials, PTA members, and civic leaders can be both effective and appropriate.


If you need assistance in resolving a dispute in your community about religion in the public schools, the American Jewish Committee would like to help. When necessary, AJC, through its local chapters and national offices in New York and Washington, can respond in several ways. AJC can write letters to relevant school officials, meet with school officials, pursue contacts with local civic leaders, seek legal remedies, advocate legislative change, and write op/ed articles. For more information about these and other options, please contact your local chapter or AJC's national offices. A listing of contact information is provided at the end of this publication.

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