Religious Children, Secular Schools


George W. Dent


The growth of government multiplies its contacts with citizens and increases the risk that government action will impair individual liberty, including the freedom of religion guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution.' As religious minorities grow more assertive, the likelihood also increases that they will not submit meekly to burdens on their religion. Tension between government and religious groups is now erupting as fundamentalist Christian parents complain that public schools teach their children doctrine hostile to their religious beliefs. The parents' demands for accommodation have provoked furious replies that accommodation is not mandated but forbidden by the Constitution. This Article examines the constitutional claims of religious parents and children offended by public education3 and the legal and policy issues that arise in the effort to accommodate them. The Article also introduces a discussion of the problems of reconciling religious freedom with the demands of the welfare state.

The analysis begins by describing the activities in public schools that offend religious people, especially fundamentalists. After discussing the history of the Constitution's religion clauses, the Article considers religionists' claims under the establishment, free exercise, free speech and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. The Article concludes by discussing remedies to accommodate the free exercise rights of religious school children.


Public Education, Religion

Publication Date


Document Type


Place of Original Publication

Southern California Law Review

Publication Information

61 Southern California Law Review 863 (1988)

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COinS George W. Dent Faculty Bio