National Guidelines for the Academic Study of Religion in Public Schools

Beginning in 1989, Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas co-chaired the coalition that developed the first national guidelines on the study of religions in public schools. The National Council for the Social Studies and other major education and civil liberties groups endorsed this guidance. In 1999, Dr. Haynes assembled a coalition of 21 national education, civil liberties and religious groups to expand the consensus documents. Three of these agreements were disseminated by the U.S. Department of Education in 2000 to every public school in the U.S., stating in part:

  • The school’s approach to religion is academic, not devotional;
  • the school strives for student awareness of religions, but does not press for student acceptance of any religion;
  • the school sponsors study about religion, not the practice of religion;
  • the school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view;
  • the school educates about all religions, it does not promote or denigrate any religion;
  • the school informs the students about religious beliefs, it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief.

These guidelines were originally developed by James V. Panoch and published in 1974 by the Public Education Religion Studies Center at Wright State University. The complete text of “A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools” may be found at www.religiousfreedomcenter.org. For all consensus guidelines on religion in public schools, see: Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas, Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Schools (Nashville, Tenn.: First Amendment Center, 2007).