October 5, 2017 is Bring Your Bible To School Day, recognized nationwide as a way to “celebrate religious freedom,” according to its sponsor Focus on the Family. Event details are set out in a Frequently Asked Questions page on their website. http://www.bringyourbible.org/frequently-asked-questions/. The day is typically organized by local Fellowship of Christian Athletes clubs and may include distribution of Conversation Cards and flyers, as well as poster displays. So, how should school administrators handle student participation in Bring Your Bible To School Day?
We asked attorneys from the school law firm, Walsh, Gallegos, Treviño, Russo & Kyle, P.C., to provide some insight. The first step would be to look to your district’s local policy. Policy FNAB addresses Student Expression-Use of School Facilities for Nonschool Purposes.
According to Walsh Gallegos shareholder, Karla Schultz, if district policy FNAB(Local) says the district does not sponsor noncurricular-related student groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but does allow such student-initiated groups to meet on secondary campuses, a Bring Your Bible To School Day event should be allowed to take place, and a related flyers can be posted in accordance with district’s time place and manner restrictions, typically found in district rules for distributing non-district sponsored materials. It should be made clear though that this is not a district-sponsored activity, and staff should not lead or participate in the activity.
Schultz also advises that, as long as it is allowed by policy, “students can hold and talk about this type of event, and the Bible, with other interested students during permissible noninstructional times (for example, before and after school, passing period, lunch). However, they should not attempt to proselytize others or harass non-participating students.” This activity, like all student activities and viewpoint expression, must be voluntary and non-disruptive.
Walsh Gallegos attorney, Joey Moore, agrees. “Students have the right to engage in non-disruptive speech, and to the extent we allow other student clubs to post posters and flyers, we should allow this,” Moore says.
Local policy may also state that such activities and flyers must “in no way imply to students or to the public that they are school-sponsored…[and] all letterheads, flyers, posters, or other communications that identify the group shall contain a disclaimer of such sponsorship.” FNAB(Local). School officials should also look to their local FNAA policy which addresses the distribution of non-school literature.
According to Schultz, most districts should have protocols in place for non-school sponsored student groups’ flyers and postings and the Bring Your Bible To School Day materials should be handled in the same way those other groups get to post their activities.
State and federal constitutional and statutory provisions protect religious expression in schools. Depending on the circumstances, those protections can be implicated if school district personnel interfere with student religious expression on campus. District administrators should look to local policy and consult with legal counsel if a question arises regarding Bring Your Bible To School Day on your campus.