May religious symbols be used as teaching aids in the classroom?
Yes. Religious symbols such as crosses, creches and menorahs may be used as teaching aids in the classroom provided that the symbols are displayed as examples of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday, and are temporary in nature. However, teachers or schools cannot be required, including by parents, guardians, or third-parties, to use religious symbols in teaching about religious holidays.
May religious symbols be used as decorations?
No. Religious symbols are not permissible seasonal or permanent decorations.
What about symbols that have become secular?
The Supreme Court has held that a Christmas tree has become such a secular symbol of the winter holiday season that its display by a public entity does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court has also found that a Hanukkah menorah is a symbol with both secular and religious meanings, and its display by a public entity other than a school within a predominantly secular holiday display does not offend the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court has not addressed whether such a display is permissible in the public school context, but it has noted that a school's display of a Christmas treeand menorah could raise additional constitutional concerns. However, lower courts have not invalidated such displays and it is likely that they are permissible.
Setting aside the legal questions for a moment, teachers and school administrators should be extremely cautious in using these symbols as decorations. The classroom and school premises are the place where children spend the majority of their day. It is important that all students feel comfortable and accepted in their school. Symbols of religious holidays may make some students uncomfortable and unwelcome because their holidays and traditions are not represented or because they do not celebrate religious holidays at all.
May religious music, art, literature and drama be used in teaching about holidays?
Yes. Music, art, literature, and drama with religious themes may be included in teaching about holidays, provided that their overall effect is not to endorse religion and that they are presented in a religiously neutral, prudent and objective manner, and relate to sound, secular educational goals. Indeed, the study of religiously inspired material can, in the correct setting, be made a part of a secular educational program.
May school assemblies or special events include religious music or drama?
Yes. Religious music or drama may be included in school events that are part of a secular program of education. However, there is no requirement that religious music or drama be included at school events. The content of school special events, assemblies, concerts and programs must be primarily secular, objective and educational, and may not focus on any one religion or religious observance and may not appear to endorse religion over non-religion or one religion over another. Such events must not promote or denigrate any particular religion, serve as a religious celebration, or become a forum for religious devotion. Student participation should be voluntary. Thus, a school's choral group can sing songs that are religious in nature but may only do so if the song is part of a larger program of music which is secular.