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1999 NCC News Archives

What Public Schools, Religious Institutions Can Do Together

July 13, 1999, NEW YORK – Despite their different missions, public schools and religious institutions can do much together to enhance the well-being of children, according to new guidelines on public school-religious community partnerships.

The National Council of Churches is among 14 co-signers of the guidelines, just published by the American Jewish Congress, Christian Legal Society and First Amendment Center.

"Public Schools and Religious Communities: A First Amendment Guide," released on July 7, describes the many collaborative efforts possible under the First Amendment to enhance the mission of public education, while ensuring the necessary public school neutrality concerning religion.

The new guide "will provide useful information to thousands of schools and faith communities across the nation as they seek to work cooperatively for children," said the Rev. Oliver Thomas, NCC Special Counsel for Religious and Civil Liberties, who helped write the guidelines.

Examined are general principles for cooperative arrangements, with specific attention to crisis counseling, mentoring programs and shelters. Guidelines also are included for school use of facilities owned by religious institutions and released-time religious education.

"Through literacy classes, before and after-school programs for latchkey kids, tutoring, adopt-a-school programs and the like, churches can provide invaluable resources to neighborhood schools," he said. "This new set of consensus guidelines will provide a blueprint for structuring such creative partnerships in ways that are both constitutionally permissible and educationally sound."

The NCC, with 35 Protestant and Orthodox member communions, is in the process of reviewing its own proposed new policy statement, "The Churches and the Public Schools at the Close of the 20th Century." Approved on "first reading" by the NCC's General Assembly last November, it is set for final action this November.

Besides the NCC and the three organizations that published "Public Schools and Religious Communities: A First Amendment Guide," co-signers are the American Association of School Administrators, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Council on Islamic Education, National Association of Evangelicals, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National PTA, National School Boards Association and United States Catholic Conference.

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