The December Dilemma: Religious Holidays in the Public Schools

Bulletin: The First Amendment and
the '3Rs' of Religious Liberty

A Brief Introduction to the FAIR Education Act
for Social Studies Educators

The Free Exercise of Religion in America

Teachers Corner
Resources and Lessons
Religion in American History
American Government and Religion
Religion in World History
World Religions and Philosophies
Institutes and Workshops
Digital Documentaries

How Do the 3Rs Apply in Schools?

World Religions on the Calendar

Subscribe to the CA3Rs Bulletin



Internet and Literature Resources for Educators

Finding Common Ground  | First Amendment Center (Religious Freedom Education Project)

Religious Holidays in Public Schools   |   FAIR Education Act of 2011 (SB 48 Anti-Bullying

  Online Opportunities  |  Teacher Leader Presentations  | Other

Finding Common Ground

Finding Common Ground 2007  

Written by Charles Haynes and Oliver Thomas, this online book provides scholarly overviews and reprints of consensus documents on the following topics:

Chapter 5: Teachers’ Guide to Religion in the Public Schools

Chapter 6: Student Religious Expression in Public Schools

Chapter 7: Student Religious Clubs

Chapter 8: Student Religious Practices

Chapter 9: Religion and the Public School Curriculum          

Chapter 10: Religious Holidays in Public Schools

Chapter 11: The Bible and Public Schools

Chapter 12: Public Schools and Religious Communities

Chapter 13: Public Schools and Sexual Orientation

Chapter 14: Character Education

Finding Common Ground in Public Schools on the Difficult Issue of Student Sexual Orientation Policy

This document was written by CA3Rs Project staff to assist school districts in beginning the process of setting up policy to implement SB48. It is based on similar consensus documents written earlier by the First Amendment Center under the leadership of Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center and Wayne Jacobsen, Director of BridgeBuilders.

Resources from the First Amendment Center
and Its Religious Freedom Education Project

Religious Liberty in Public Schools – First Amendment Center

This section of the First Amendment Center website provides legal and scholarly research articles along with consensus documents as available on the following topics:

Public Schools and Religious Communities

Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum

At the Religious Freedom Education Project directed at the Newseum find the latest religiously liberty news, consensus publications, and notice of programs on current hot topics.

Charles Haynes News Clips and Commentaries on the First Amendment
Dr. Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum and a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. He writes and speaks extensively on religious liberty and religion in American public life.

When Worldviews Collide: A role for public school educators to negotiate conflicts over sexual orientation and religious expression
This October 2012 article by Charles Haynes in School Administrator magazine explores the confrontation between conservative religious advocates and gay rights supporters in public schools. Dr. Haynes identifies many of the dilemmas it presents to public school administrators and provides advice on how to find common ground within the conflict and build support for this consensus within in the community.  

Religious Holidays in Public Schools

The December Dilemma
Every year the month of December has the potential for being a time of conflict in today's culturally diverse schools unless we make a strong effort to remind all educators, students and parents that public schools belong to all members of the community equally.

Day of the Dead
In an effort to honor the contributions of Mexican Americans to the rich cultural tapestry of the United States, many schools include Día de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") activities during the first couple of days of November. Challenges to these lessons have grown recently on First Amendment grounds, leading to the great confusion of teachers who have been working hard to make school a welcome place for students of all cultures.

Halloween has become an increasingly controversial holiday in public schools in recent years. What are the issues and what is the best way to handle them?

Religious Holidays from the First Amendment Center.

Holidays in the Public Schools: Ramadan
The Muslim holiday of Ramadan is a month-long observance that falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the holiest month of the year. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars (fundamental religious duties) of Islam.

Teaching About Passover and Easter
The Jewish observance of Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, and the Christian holiday of Easter are major religious celebrations for many public school students. Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are etymologically related. Both holidays vary by date each year.

Teaching About the Jewish High Holidays
These major religious holidays directly involve many Jewish students and teachers in California public schools. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and kicks off a period known as the Days of Awe, or the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating in Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are major holidays for Jews.

Diwali - Festival of Lights
Diwali, or Deepawali, is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. It is celebrated for up to five day in either October or November. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday gets its name from the clay lamps that many people in and from India light to symbolize the inner light that they believe protects them from spiritual darkness.

Chinese or Lunar New Year
Communities throughout the world begin the celebration for Chinese (Lunar) New Year, or Spring Festival, with parades and carnivals. For China and other Asian countries, Spring Festival is a week-long holiday, though the Lantern Festival that falls on the fifteenth day of the first month brings an end to the New Year season.

Fair Education Act of 2011 (SB 48)

A Brief Introduction to the FAIR Education Act for Social Studies Educators
This article by Damon Huss and Tascha Folsoi from Social Studies Review (2017-18), published by the California Council for the Social Studies, outlines the basics of the FAIR Education Act: what the law states and how it can enrich social studies teaching in California with fair, accurate, inclusive, and respectful curricular content. The article includes a brief guide to resources available to teachers, as well as selected LGBT-oriented literature for school library or classroom use.

The FAIR Education Act for Teachers
In this video, Damon Huss and Leslie Smith speak to Michelle Herczog of the Los Angeles County Office of Education about the meaning and implementation of the FAIR Education Act for social studies teachers.

The FAIR Education Act for Administrators
In this video, Damon Huss speaks to Michelle Herczog of the Los Angeles County Office of Education about the letter and spirit of the FAIR Education Act in schools.

California’s Diversity: Past and Present - Lessons for the FAIR Education Act of 2011
Constitutional Rights Foundation has developed these lessons to help teachers address the FAIR Education Act of 2011, promoting tolerance, respect for diversity, and critical thinking about issues of equal protection. The lessons are geared for middle and high school and will support California History-Social Science Standards and are alligned to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

Finding Common Ground in Public Schools on the Difficult Issue of Student Sexual Orientation Policy

This document was written by CA3Rs Project staff to assist school districts in beginning the process of setting up policy to implement SB48. It is based on similar consensus documents written earlier by the First Amendment Center under the leadership of Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center and Wayne Jacobsen, Director of BridgeBuilders.

SB48 Doesn’t Have to Tear Your District Apart
Written by conflict mediator Wayne Jacobsen, this 3Rs Bulletin from February 2012 addresses how school districts can effectively approach the implementation of the anti-bullying and curriculum inclusion aspect of SB48.


Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools
In an era of many new anti-bullying laws, “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression” is designed to provide guidelines for public school administrators and teachers to determine the differences between protected free speech and harassment and bullying. Seventeen groups, including major religious, educational, and curriculum groups signed off as supporting these guidelines. Click here to download a background discussion.

The Bully by Paul Langdon Student Guide
In the United States, bullying among children and teenagers has often been dismissed as a normal part of growing up. Little attention has been paid to the devastating effects of bullying, or to the connection between bullying and other forms of violence. In recent years, however, students and adults around the country have begun to make a commitment to stop bullying in their schools and communities.  This novel and guide are one step to take.

Teaching Tolerance: Bullied: A Student, A School, and a Case that Made History

Teaching Tolerance program works to foster school environments that are inclusive and nurturing and classrooms where equality and justice are not just taught, but lived. Bullied is a 40-minute documentary film that chronicles one student’s ordeal at the hands of anti-gay bullies and offers an inspiring message of hope to those fighting harassment today. It can become a cornerstone of anti-bullying efforts in middle and high schools.

A Guide to the Film BULLY: Fostering Empathy and Action in Schools

The film BULLY follows stories of five children and families who are affected deeply by bullying within the course of the school year. With intimate glimpses of the homes, classrooms, cafeterias, and principals’ offices, the film gives insight into the lives of bullied, ridiculed children. The Guide, developed by Facing History and Ourselves, offers ideas and suggestions for film viewing, discussion, and responsive action.

Online Opportunities

Civic Action Project

The Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Civic Action Project  (CAP) is a project-based learning model for civics and government courses. It offers a practicum for high school students in effective and engaged citizenship and uses blended learning to engage students in civic activities both in and out of the traditional U.S. government classroom. By using web-based technology and civics-based instruction and activities, students exercise important 21st century skills in digital literacy, critical thinking, collaboration, self-direction, and learning to be an engaged, effective citizen in a democracy. 

Anti-Defamation League

ADL addresses the proper role of religion in the public schools by providing an online handbook on the key issues. ADL also has resources for schools on bullying prevention and a new offering developed in collaboration with GLSEN and StoryCorps related to LGBT issues that high schools may want to review as they implement SB48.

Teacher Leader Presentations

Teaching Behind the Wall

This site was created by Christopher J. Valin, a California Three Rs Project teacher-leader, as a resource for teachers in K-12 schools on church-state separation. The site includes a historical background, print and digital sources, summaries of key court cases, and hypothetical case studies of religious issues in the classroom.

Other Resources

The following sites are not endorsed by the California Three Rs Project but have been recommended by scholars of religious liberties.

Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework
The C3 (College, Career, and Civic Life) Framework provides a structure for the Inquiry Arc in teaching social studies in the subjects of history, civics, economics, and geography. In 2017, a new supplemental Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework was added.

Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States

This scholarly but highly readable booklet by the American Academy of Religions provides guidelines and examples of how to teach about religion in public schools.

The Pluralism Project at Harvard University
The Pluralism Project: World Religions in America is a decade-long research project, with funding from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, to engage students in studying the new religious diversity in the United States.

Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law-Wake Forest University

In this 36-page document a diverse set of religious leaders and First Amendment scholars examine how the law applies to religious expression in American public life. Though the drafters of this document often disagreed about how the law should address issues regarding the intersection of religion and government, they come together to provide a summary of how the law currently answers some basic questions regarding religious expression and practice in public life.

Religious Expression in American Public Life: PowerPoint

Adapted for Schools by the California 3 Rs Project, this powerpoint selects and explains parts of the Religious Expression in American Public Life document that directly relate to public schools.  

Religion and Public Education Resource Center
The Religion and Public Education Resource Center provides general information about the ethical, legal, and educational issues that arise in connection with the topic of religion and public education. RPERC promotes the academic study of the world's religions in public schools as an indispensable contribution to historical and cultural literacy and an integral part of education for citizenship in a pluralistic democracy.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

This PBS website is a rich resource of interviews on religiously related topics and video clips of religious practice by a wide ranging groups of believers across America.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

The Pew Forum conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. It also provides a neutral venue for discussions of timely issues through roundtables and briefings.

Americans for Religious Liberty

Since it was founded in 1981 Americans for Religious Liberty has be a spokesman for separation of church and state as the indispensable guarantor of religious and intellectual freedom, religiously neutral democratic public education, and individual freedom of conscience.

Teaching About Religion…in Support of Civic Pluralism

This site provides background information and classroom materials related to  teaching about religion in public schools in support of pluralism, acknowledging that public schools are for students of all worldviews, whether religious or nonreligious, and that public school teachers, as professionals, need to exercise a scrupulous neutrality regarding religion.

Constitution Day & Bill of Rights Day Resources
Constitution Day (or Citizenship Day) is observed on September 17 in recognition of the adoption of the United States Constitution and to those who have become U.S. citizens. It is observed on September 17 because that was the day the Framers at the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in 1787.

Bill of Rights Institute

Find current event lessons, the founding documents, and other resources to teach about the Bill of Rights.

Constitutional Rights Foundation

This site has a wealth of resource and lesson material on the constitution and constitutional aspects of controversial issues.

Center for Civic Education

The Center for Civic Education’s curricula includes We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution; Project Citizen; the School Violence Prevention Demonstration Program; Representative Democracy in America; Citizens, Not Spectators; and Foundations of Democracy. In addition to the curriculum above, the Center also provides a variety of free, downloadable curricular resources for teachers.

Congressional Hearing Activity
An abbreviated We the People Hearing on 4 or 5 lessons from the grade appropriate student text you received as part of the institute. In the past, teachers ave overwhelming indicated that this activity was one of the high points of their summer institute and it is a requirement of the One Nation Many Faiths Project.

The Religious Freedom Page

Among other resources this site has links to religious liberty related court decisions, a huge list of primary sources, and much more.

U.S. Department of Justice – Combating Religious Discrimination and Protecting Religious Liberty

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice enforces a wide range of laws protecting religious liberty. This website provides information about these laws and examples of the types of cases brought by the Civil Rights Division.

First Freedom Center

The mission of the First Freedom Center is to advance the fundamental human rights of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.  The site has primary documents, a few lesson plans, and instructions for a student competition.

National School Boards Association – School Law Issues
The religion page is devoted to First Amendment, Establishment, Free Exercise, and Free Speech clause issues related to the role of religion in public schools. Topics covered include: prayer, religious instruction, religious garb, religious observations, and religious displays. This page also looks at claims raised under the federal Equal Access Act.

Education for Freedom: Lesson Plans for Teaching the First Amendment

These lessons address constitutional principles and contemporary issues involving the First Amendment. They draw students into an exploration of how their freedoms began and how they operate in today's world. Students discuss just how far individual rights extend, examining rights in the school environment and public places.

Exploring Constitutional Law

This site from the University of Missouri Kansas City explores some of the great issues and controversies that surround the US Constitution including a look at cases related to the First Amendment. Exploring Constitutional Law was created for use by law students.  

Beyond Tolerance - George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

This site has teacher lesson resources on George Washington’s Letter to the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. There are also documents and background information related to many other religious groups whom he addressed in support of religious liberty.

Resources for Excellent Civic Education – The Annenberg Classroom

This site has much more than religion related topics but instead demonstrates how religious liberty is integral to the study of the Constitution.

Facing History and Ourselves – Linking History to Moral choices Today

This highly respected agency provides educational resources on a wide range of issues including religious liberty. Of particular interest is the support material they created for the documentary Bully.

Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues

The goal of this site is to present classroom usable arguments from both sides of controversial issues related to public policy, many of them with religious connections or implications.

Religious – Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

he stated goal of this website is to provide a study of the world's religions will lead to an understanding of religious diversity that has the potential for increasing interfaith dialogue and greater peace among faith groups and nations. It is a site frequently sited in scholarly articles on specific religions.

Resources on Jewish Heritage From a Collaboration in Washington, DC
May is Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), an annual recognition and celebration of the achievements and contributions of Jewish Americans in the United States.

The California Three Rs Project co-sponsored by Constitutional Rights Foundation, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association,
and the Religious Freedom Education Project at Newseum

DISCLAIMER: This site is for educational purposes only. Constitutional Rights Foundation and the California Three Rs Project are not legal advocacy organizations and do not provide legal advice or representation. If you have a particular legal question, CRF encourages you to talk to an attorney or advocacy organization that specializes in religious liberty issues.

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