Does God Belong in Public Schools?

By Kent Greenawalt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Excusing Students When They or
Their Parents Object

IN OUR FINAL CHAPTER, we will consider what schools should do when parents or students seek exceptions from standard requirements. Typically, parents with religious objections to aspects of the educational program want their children to be excused. In recent decades, most such complaints have been made by devoutly religious parents who worry that their children's faith will be undermined by forms of secular instruction. Religious objections to curriculums will almost certainly increase if schools deal more fully with religion; some parents will not want their children educated about other religions.

When responding to complaints of this sort, educators must evaluate the legitimate aims of their schools against the value of free exercise of religion for parents and for children. If courts are to declare that parents or children have constitutional rights to be excused, their primary locus will be the free exercise clauses of federal and state constitutions.1 In some jurisdictions, parents may rely on statutory guarantees of free exercise.2 I assume in what follows that parents and their children are in accord, although how courts should regard the wishes, or claims of conscience, of older teenagers who disagree with their parents about what instruction they should receive is itself a substantial question.

We can understand a great deal about the complex issues raised by parental claims to have their children excused by examining the notable case of Mozert v. Hawkins County Board of Education.3


PARENTAL OBJECTIONS

The controversy in Hawkins County, Tennessee, began when Vicki Frost was dismayed to learn that her daughter's sixthgrade reader contained a story, “A Visit to Mars,” involving

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