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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: December 11, 2014 12:18 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Guidelines on religious expression
I am reintroducing Senate Bill 847, legislation amending the Public School Code of 1949 (Act 14) to provide greater awareness to school administrators, teachers, parents and students on the matter of religious expression in public schools.

The origin of our country is founded on religious freedom. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides the legal structure for religious issues. It contains both the Establishment Clause which bans the establishment of religion and the Free Exercise Clause that permits citizens to freely exercise religious convictions. Over the last 50 years the courts have interpreted these constitutional provisions and rendered numerous decisions on the matter of religion in public schools.

To help provide some direction on this matter, in 2003 the United States Department of Education issued “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools”. The purpose of the guidance is to provide state and local educational agencies and the public with information on this important topic.

However, I believe there are many parents and students today who are unaware of this guidance document and what is permissible and not permissible in public schools as it relates to religious activities, like prayer. My legislation requires the Secretary of Education at the start of the 2015-2016 school year to make available on the Pennsylvania Department of Education Internet website, for informational purposes, the entire “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools” published by the U.S. Department of Education, as updated from time to time. In addition to the guidelines, the secretary may also include on the department’s website any additional information it deems relevant to religious activity in public schools, including applicable State and Federal laws.

The secretary may also direct school districts to post the guidelines and any other relevant information determined by the department on their Internet website for informational purposes for all district school board members, district school superintendents, school principals, teachers and the general public. Each school year districts may, through normal communications, inform all public school employees and parents or guardians of students of this information and how they may access it on the district’s website.

This legislation, which is modeled after a Florida law, will help to ensure that our school administrators, teachers, parents and students are aware of these guidelines and clarify any misunderstandings about religion and the public schools.

The Senate Education Committee favorably reported this legislation from committee last session.

Introduced as SB51