WHY A MODEL
The Texas School Children’s Religious Liberties Act has a
safe harbor model policy included as a part of the Act. School
districts are not required to adopt the recommended model policy.
A school district may chose to draft its own policy, but its policy
must comply with all aspects of the Act. The only way to
assure compliance with the Act is to adopt the safe harbor model
policy, and then a school district can be assured that it is in
compliance with all matters covered under the model policy.
Kelly Coghlan drafted the School Children's Religious Liberties Act,
including the model policy part of the Act.
Before adding the model policy to this Act,
an earlier version of the model policy was tested in a number of
school districts from Texas to Illinois. It took a number of years
to develop the model policy to the point of it being ready to
include in the Act, and
the background is as follows:
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education issued “Guidance
on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and
Secondary Schools” (“Prayer Guidance”). As a condition to obtaining
federal funds, each school district in America must annually certify
that it “has no policy [that] prevents, or otherwise denies
participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public
elementary and secondary schools as set forth in this guidance.”
The Prayer Guidance makes it clear that voluntary prayer
and other faith-based expression publicly stated by students over
school microphones is allowable at student assemblies,
extracurricular events and graduations if an appropriate student
speaker policy has been enacted by the school district.
So why didn’t school districts rush to adopt an appropriate
policy? Primarily because most school’s lawyers are not
constitutional specialists and did not feel that they had the legal
expertise to draft such a policy.
Recognizing this vacuum, Kelly Coghlan, one of the
attorneys who helped the U.S. Department of Education formulate the
Prayer Guidance, drafted a model policy that translated the Prayer
Guidance into a workable local policy for adoption by all school
districts in the United States. A number of school districts, from
Texas to Illinois, adopted the model policy and now have a 4-6 year
operating history under the model policy upon which the model policy
of the Texas School Children’s Religious Liberties Act is based.
This is what has been said about the model policy:
Our Texas school district adopted the model policy drafted by Kelly Coghlan (who also drafted the Texas School Children’s Religious
Liberties Act) and has had it in place for over 6 years. The School
Board adopted the policy to try to bring our school district in line
with the law. The model policy we adopted is of the same type and
structure as the model policy that is part of the new Texas Act.
During my entire time as Superintendent of Hamlin ISD, there was never
a single instance of any abuse by a student speaker under the
policy. Students have been very respectful of the opportunity to
publicly speak. And, to my knowledge, there has never been any
abuse of the privilege arising out of this right of student
expression under the policy.
The model policy has allowed our District to be neutral in matters
of religion by neither promoting nor prohibiting the voluntary
expression of students’ religious viewpoints on otherwise
permissible subjects. Although there have been students who
have elected to publicly express prayerful and other religious
viewpoints at graduations and other events, we have had no problems,
abuses, or complaints regarding the model policy.
Curt Parsons, Superintendent, Hamlin Independent School
District, Hamlin, Texas.
Our School District adopted the model policy more than four years
ago. Although the ACLU is very active in our Illinois community and
once successfully sued our school district, the ACLU has expressed
no objection to the model policy or to the students’ voluntary
expressions of faith under the policy.
The model policy translates the U.S. Department of Education’s
‘Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary
and Secondary Schools’ into practical terms that can be adopted as a
local policy for all school districts. With clear guidance provided
by the model policy, it showed us how to remain neutral in matters
of student’s religious viewpoints and how to assure that the private
expression of any such religious viewpoints, if any, were not
attributable to the school district.
With no prompting from the school, our experience has been that once
students realized that they would not be punished for expressing a
religious viewpoint on otherwise permissible subjects there were
students who elected to voluntarily express prayerful and other
religious viewpoints at graduations, opening of morning
announcements and other school events. Illinois isn’t exactly the
Bible Belt, so this was somewhat surprising.
We believe that allowing students to publicly speak before school
audiences is a valuable educational growth experience for students.
After more than four years of experience, we have had no problems
concerning the model policy. We have never had a student abuse the
privilege, embarrass the school district, or in any way misuse or
exploit any speaking opportunities. We have had no complaints
regarding the model policy or its implementation.
Based upon our excellent four+ year experience operating under the
model policy, I can recommend adoption of the model policy by other
Superintendent, Washington Community High School District,
I’ve been the
attorney and legal advisor for many of the major school districts in
Texas (including Aldine I.S.D., Alief I.S.D., Alvin I.S.D.,
Anahuac I.S.D., A&M Consolidated I.S.D., Atlanta I.S.D., Austin
I.S.D., Baytown I.S.D., Bryan I.S.D., Cleveland I.S.D., Cold Sprints
I.S.D., Conroe I.S.D., Crosby I.S.D., Cy-Fair I.S.D., Dickinson
I.S.D., Fort Bend I.S.D., Friendswood I.S.D., Georgetown I.S.D.,
Hearne I.S.D., Henderson I.S.D., Houston I.S.D., Lubbock I.S.D.,
Madisonville I.S.D., Montgomery I.S.D., Nacogdoches I.S.D., New
Caney I.S.D., Northwest Houston, Spring Branch I.S.D., Sulpher
Springs I.S.D., Warren I.S.D., Wichita Falls I.S.D., and others, as
well as school districts in Florida and Georgia). I am told that no
other attorney has represented more Texas school districts than I
have over my career. I have carefully analyzed the Texas Act and
model policy and recommend adoption of the model policy by every
school district in Texas. It is my opinion that this is the best
piece of legislation for school districts that has been introduced
in the past 50 years.”
named one of 5 best lawyers over 50 years by the Texas State Bar,
American College of Trial Lawyers, partner of Bracewell, Reynolds &
Patterson (successor of Bracewell & Giuliani), founder of Reynolds,
White, Allen & Cook, former Assistant Attorney General of Texas,
16-year member of Texas A&M Board of Regents.
I see no problem
with these policies.
Edward Pińa, President of the San Antonio Chapter of the ACLU and
Vice President of Legal Affairs for the ACLU of Texas. [Discussing
model policy upon which the model policy contained in the School
Children’s Religious Liberties Act is based].
The policy Coghlan suggests appears to be constitutional on its face.
Schwartz & Eichelbaum, P.C., law firm. [Discussing model policy upon
which the model policy contained in the School Children’s Religious
Liberties Act is based].
I see nothing [in
the model policy] that bothers me in any constitutionally-interested
Mark Weldon Whitten, President of the Greater Houston Area
Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
[Discussing model policy upon which the model policy contained in
the School Children’s Religious Liberties Act is based].
This is as close
as I’ve seen anything yet to a solution....
Hoffman, Director of Legal Services, Texas Association of School
Boards, Texas Education News, Vol. 3, Issue 31. [Discussing model
policy upon which the model policy contained in the School
Children’s Religious Liberties Act is based].
Perhaps if our
school district had had these student speaker policies in 1997 and
students knew that they were permitted to publicly pray for their
school and classmates during the year, and had done so, the
atmosphere would have been different and we wouldn’t have had 9
students shot by 11th grader Luke Woodham setting off an
unprecedented 18 month avalanche of massacres in America’s public
schools leaving 101 gun-downed by students. When you make schools
religion-free zones, other things take its place.
Dr. William Dodson, Superintendent, Pearl Public School District,
Amendment…does not convert our schools into religion-free
zones…[and] does not require students to leave their religion at the
United States President William J. Clinton, speech at James Madison High
School, Vienna, Virginia.