Frequently Asked Questions
Questions About Issues Not Within Our Priority Areas:
Q: Social Services has begun an investigation of our family for potential child abuse. How are such investigations initiated? Should I let workers into our house without a warrant? Can they take my children?
A: These investigations are usually initiated by a call to your state's child abuse hotline or calls to your local Department of Child Welfare (this term varies from state to state) by someone who suspects that a child has been abused. Typically, you do not have to allow the workers into your home without a warrant. However, if the officials feel the need to do so, they will obtain a warrant and return with a police officer and demand entry. (Of note, if it is suspected that a child is in imminent danger, the workers or the police will enter your home without your consent or a warrant.) Whether or not they can or will take your children depends on whom the charges are against and what type of charges you, a caretaker, or a sibling are being accused of. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief E-9 entitled Social Service Investigations for more information regarding this subject.
Q: Can a school administrator or counselor question my child without my consent or knowledge?
A: Typically it depends on the situation as to whether or not school officials can question your child without your consent or knowledge. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief B-15 entitled Constitutionality of Questioning Students Without Parental Consent for more information regarding this subject.
Q: My child saw a man viewing pornographic web sites at the local library. Can you help us prevent this from happening?
A: Unfortunately, the courts have ruled that to restrict a library patron from viewing pornography on public computers is a violation of that person's free speech rights. The Supreme Court ruled that the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which made it a crime to put adult-oriented material online, was unconstitutional. However, two other bills have been introduced since this one was overturned. The 1998 Child Online Protection Act is now pending in the Supreme Court, and it requires web sites to collect a credit card number or other proof of age before permitting Internet users to view material deemed harmful to minors. Also, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000 is being scrutinized by several federal courts at this time. This law requires that public libraries receiving certain types of federal monies install filtering software to prevent children from accessing online pornography. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief B-33 entitled Constitutionality of Access to Porn on Internet in Public Libraries for more information regarding this subject.
Q: My child's teacher asked each child in her second-grade class to bring in a favorite book to share with the class. When my daughter took her children's Bible for children to read and share with the class, the teacher would not let her read the book, telling my daughter that her Bible story book is not allowed at school because of separation of church and state.
A: This is a clear violation of your child's free speech and free exercise rights. Please call or email our office immediately and we will speak with you to determine the best course of action for your situation. Although some lower courts have ruled in favor of schools prohibiting elementary students from reading to classmates religious literature, the U.S. Supreme Court in Good News v. Milford held that elementary aged students can tell the difference between school endorsement and student free speech.
Q: I don't want my child being taught about the theory of evolution (or sex ed, or any other course the parent finds objectionable). Is there anything I can do?
A: Yes. Inquire if your child's school has an opt-out policy that parents can request upon learning about objectionable material being taught to their children. Most often with these policies, your child will be given alternative assignments, or will simply be excused from the objectionable portion of the class. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief B-9 entitled Parental Rights and Opt-Out Policies: Trends in Case Law, for more information regarding your opt-out options as a parent. If a school administrator refuses to accommodate your child call The Rutherford Institute immediately.
Q: My child's social studies class is learning about ancient religions. Can the public school legally teach this?
A: Typically, if the material is presented from a historical perspective and no one religion is promoted or restricted, teachers are allowed to teach their students about ancient religions. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief B-9 entitled Parental Rights and Opt-Out Policies: Trends in Case Law for more information regarding your opt-out options as a parent and our Freedom Resource Brief B-19 entitled The Constitutionality of Teaching Alternative Forms of Spiritual Practices in Public Schools Including Eastern and New Age Practices for more information regarding the teaching of alternative religions in public schools.
Q: Does a student religious club have the same privileges as other clubs?
A: As long as there is at least one non-curriculum-related group meeting the equal access act is triggered and the school must allow student religious clubs to meet without discrimination. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief B-14 entitled Public School Religious Clubs: Rights & Reasons for more information regarding the rights of student religious clubs.
Q: My son left his pocket knife in his vehicle and was expelled for "possession of a weapon on school property." Does he have any recourse?
A: Yes. Your son has to be given due process (the right to be heard and given a chance to defend himself before school officials prior to suspension). Parents should contact The Rutherford Institute immediately upon suspension and provide a copy of the policy by which the student was disciplined.
Q: My daughter wrote a poem as part of a school assignment that her teacher believed contained "threatening language." She was suspended for threatening her teacher. Can they do this legally?
A: No. Your daughter has a right to free speech. The school must take into consideration all the surrounding circumstances and your daughter's disciplinary record before applying disciplinary measures. The school must also determine if a reasonable person would have believed the poem to be a legitimate threat and whether the student would be able to carry out the alleged threat. Parents should contact The Rutherford Institute immediately.
Q: Can my son continue wearing a T-shirt with a Confederate battle flag if his principal demands he remove the shirt because some students find the symbol offensive?
A: Offensive speech is protected speech. Such symbols can only be banned if the school has evidence that the symbol in question has caused a substantial disturbance in the immediate past. Please see our Freedom Resource I-9 entitled Free Speech.
Q: I work for a large retailer that is open on Sundays. My boss has told me that I must come to work for a staff meeting at 10:00 a.m. each Sunday. I am willing to continue to work on Sundays beginning when the store opens at 1:00 p.m., but at 10:00 a.m. I am on my way to church. Can my employer force me to work on Sunday mornings when according to my religious beliefs I should worship?
A: Federal law (and most state employment statutes) require that an employer with more than 15 employees take affirmative steps to accommodate the religious beliefs and exercise of its employees, as long as the employer is given advance notice of the employee's beliefs and request for accommodation and accommodating the employee does not impose more than a minimal burden on the employer. Sabbath worship is a typical example of religious observance for which accommodation could be required. Exceptions may apply if a seniority system or the provisions of a union contract spell out how time off is to be granted without expressly authorizing time off for religious observance, or if allowing time off would cost the employer more than a minimal amount of expense or income. Additionally, state anti-discrimination laws may provide protections for religious workers that apply to smaller employers. Please see our Freedom Resource Briefs D-1, Compulsory Labor on the Sabbath, and D-4, Religious Accommodation in the Workplace, for more information.
Q: Can I talk to my co-workers about religion?
A: Yes, if conversation does not interfere with the productivity of the work and unless the religious employee presents the information in a badgering, harassing manner, such as after a co-worker has said that she doesn't wish to hear it. Please see our Freedom Resource Briefs D-4, Religious Accommodation in the Workplace, D-7, Bible Studies and Religious Meetings in the Workplace, and D-8, Religious Posters, Pictures, and Articles in the Workplace, for more information.
Q: I have been harassed at work because of my religious beliefs. What can I do?
A: Harassment in the workplace on the basis of one's religious beliefs is a violation of federal and state law. You should notify your employer or supervisor regarding the harassment. If, after a sufficient time, the harassment is still ongoing and the employer has not taken action, then you should consider filing a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). Please see our Freedom Resource Brief D-2, What Procedures Must One Follow in Order to File a Title VII Claim of Religious Discrimination with the EEOC?
Q: I'm a public school teacher. Can I talk to my students about my faith?
A: You cannot initiate the conversation. If, however, the student initiates the religious conversation and the conversation is during non-instructional time, then you should be allowed to address religion with the student. Please refer to our pamphlet, Teachers Rights in Public Education.
Questions About Issues Not Within Our Priority Areas
Q: My spouse is taking me to court for a divorce, which is contrary to my religious beliefs. Can you help?
A: Although we are sympathetic to your situation, we seldom are able to become involved in divorce matters. State and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court itself, have consistently held that when it comes to granting a divorce, the courts adjust only the property and civil rights between the parties and do not judge matters based on the ecclesiastical dimension to the marriage. The assertion that it is a violation of your freedom of religion for the courts to grant a divorce and ignore the oaths and affirmations made during the wedding ceremony is well taken. The problem is that the courts are only adjusting the civil and property aspects of the marriage, leaving the spiritual dimension to the church, where the courts do not have jurisdiction.
Q: My child is home-schooled, but would like to play on the high school basketball team. The school refuses to let him. How can we force the school to put him on the team?
A: We are not aware of any laws that permit you to force a school to allow your home-schooled child to participate in extracurricular activities at your local public school. At this time, there is no case law substantiating the position that home schoolers have a right to participate in extracurricular activities. However, every state is different on this matter, and your local school district may have different rules than the state laws regarding this matter. Please see our Freedom Resource Brief N-9 entitled Access of Home School Children to Public School Activities for more information.
Q: I am being denied workers' compensation benefits. Can you appeal the case for me?
A: We do not offer assistance in cases regarding workers' compensation benefits or denial.
Q: I am being denied disability payments. Can you appeal the case for me?
A: We do not offer assistance in medical disability cases.
Q: I had a labor contract with a company, and now they are refusing to pay me. What can I do?
A: Contact an attorney who specializes in contracts or labor law. We do not offer assistance in these types of cases.
Q: I own my home free and clear. Now the state is saying that I have to give up some of my property for a city park. Can they do this?
A: In most states they can take the land and the term used is condemnation of the land through the state's right of eminent domain. It is defined as the "process of taking private property for public use." However, in most cases "just compensation" must be paid to the owner of the land. Please check with a local real estate or real property attorney for clarification of your state and local laws. We do not offer assistance in property matters unless one of the parties is a church or religious entity.