Religion in Schools
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Equity and Civil Rights

Religion in Schools

Public schools must protect students from discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion—including a student’s religious background, beliefs, dress, and expression. Religion and creed are protected classes under Washington law.
Chapter 28A.642 RCW | Chapter 392-190 WAC | Chapter 49.60 RCW


Families — Religious Practice in Schools

Students’ Rights: Religion and Religious Practice
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Religious Expression at School
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects a student’s rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Students who choose to express their religious beliefs at school are permitted to:

  • Express these beliefs at school, in homework, and in school assignments
  • Pray or study religious materials during recess, lunch, and other non-instructional time, such as before or after school
  • Pray or discuss religion with other students during the school day in the same way that students can engage in other conversations with students, as long as it is not disruptive and does not infringe on the rights of other students

Harassment | Discriminatory Harassment — Based on Religion or Creed
Harassment based on religion is a form of discrimination prohibited in Washington public schools. Schools must take steps to protect students and investigate possible discriminatory harassment—as soon as they know or reasonably should know—even if a parent or student does not file a complaint.
Discriminatory Harassment — Equity and Civil Rights at OSPI

Questions, Concerns, Complaints
A discussion with your school principal, or civil rights coordinator at the school district, is often the best first step to address your concerns or disagreements about religious discrimination and work toward a solution. Share what happened and let the principal or coordinator know what they can do to help resolve the problem.

If you cannot resolve the concern or disagreement this way, you can file a complaint.


Districts — Religious Practice in Schools

Religious Accommodations
Public school staff must take reasonable steps to accommodate a student’s religious beliefs or practices, unless that accommodation would create an undue hardship. Undue hardship is a term that means the accommodation is costly, compromises safety, or infringes on the rights of other students or employees.

Religious accommodations could include:

  • Excusing absences for religious observances or activities.
  • Providing alternative assignments with similar learning goals.
  • Waiving dress code or school uniform requirements that conflict with a student’s religious beliefs or practices. For example, a school might waive a rule to allow a student to wear a head cover, jewelry, religious object, beard, or hair of a certain length.

Discriminatory Harassment — Based on Religion
School staff must take steps to protect students from discriminatory harassment. This includes investigating possible discriminatory harassment — as soon as they know or reasonably should know — even if a parent or student does not file a complaint.
Discriminatory Harassment — Equity and Civil Rights at OSPI

Teaching about Religion
The United States Constitution prohibits public schools from endorsing or preferring one religion over another and from endorsing religion over non-religion.

Public schools are permitted to teach students about the world’s religions as long as this instruction serves an educational purpose, such as the role of religion in history and society. Teachers should present the material in a neutral, objective, and balanced way.

In general, public schools are allowed to use music, art, drama, or literature with religious themes. For example, students might play religious music as part of an academic study of music and music history. However, schools should not use such music to promote religion.

Religious Beliefs
Public schools must not impose or promote religious beliefs. Public school employees, including coaches, are not permitted to lead prayers or encourage students to pray. School employees must not encourage or invite students to participate in, or refrain from, religious activities.

Resources and Support

State Policy

Federal Policy and Guidance



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