Update: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many schools across the nation are operating virtually or offering students distance learning. The guidance outlined in this section applies equally to virtual classroom activities and school-wide events, as well as other virtual spaces controlled by public schools.
Every December, public school students, parents, teachers and administrators face the difficult task of acknowledging the various religious and secular holiday traditions celebrated during that time of year. Teachers, administrators and parents should try to promote greater understanding and tolerance among students of different traditions by taking care to adhere to the requirements of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion to all Americans — including young schoolchildren — by prohibiting the government from endorsing or promoting any particular religious point of view. This prohibition has led courts to ban such plainly coercive religious activities in public schools as organized prayer and the teaching of creationism. The law is less clear regarding the limits on holiday celebrations in public schools, but a number of guidelines should be followed in order to ensure that our public schools can best celebrate the religious freedom upon which our nation was founded.
Teachers must be careful not to cross the line between teaching about religious holidays (which is permitted) and celebrating religious holidays (which is not). Celebrating religious holidays in the form of religious worship or other practices is unconstitutional. Teaching about a holiday will be constitutional if it furthers a genuine secular program of education, is presented objectively, and does not have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. The U.S. Supreme Court has not specifically ruled on this subject.