ADF: No blocking free speech during ‘Fields of Faith’

Legal memo outlines constitutional freedoms of students, teachers during annual after-school event on athletic fields
Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Jeremy Tedesco  |  Matt Sharp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Alliance Defending Freedom is making available a legal memo that explains and reinforces the First Amendment freedom of students and teachers to participate in “Fields of Faith” Oct. 8. In 2004, Fellowship of Christian Athletes developed Fields of Faith, an annual, student-organized, and student-led gathering at school athletic fields after school where students read the Bible, hear testimonies, worship, and pray for each other.

“Christians don’t abandon their constitutional freedoms at the schoolhouse gate,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Their freedom to peacefully express their beliefs extends to after-school events, and that certainly includes activities like those at Fields of Faith.”

In the past, some government school officials have unconstitutionally kept teachers and students from sharing about and participating in the event, often erroneously citing the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The ADF memo explains that student groups have the constitutionally protected freedom to participate in Fields of Faith through prayer and worship activities and to inform their fellow students about the event to the same extent that other student groups are allowed to promote, participate, and use school facilities for other types of activities and events. Coaches and teachers likewise can participate in the event as private citizens.

“The Supreme Court has squarely stated that a student’s free speech rights apply ‘when [they are] in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours,’” the ADF memo states. “This includes prayer: ‘nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.’”

The memo also notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “religious speech is protected by the First Amendment and may not be singled out for discrimination.”

“There’s no legitimate basis for public school officials to prohibit students and teachers from engaging in this type of religious expression,” added ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “We hope our legal memo clarifies the freedom of students and staff to participate in this event. We’re available free of charge to students, teachers, and schools to provide legal guidance on exactly these types of First Amendment issues.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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