WASHINGTON, DC--Schools and Religion: A National Perspective, is the focus of a public fact-finding hearing to be held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on May 20, 1998 at its Washington, DC headquarters, 624 Ninth Street, NW (the YWCA building), Conference Room 540 beginning at 9:30 a.m.

The Washington hearing, the first of three planned on the topic, will examine current issues and disputes regarding public schools and religious rights and freedoms. It will explore whether public school districts are complying with the Equal Access Act and court decisions allowing religious groups equal access to school facilities; whether schools are interfering with individual students' and teachers' constitutionally protected rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech; and the role of religion in public school curricula.

Commission hearings are distinguished from other Commission activities, such as briefings and consultations, in that witnesses are subpoenaed and testify under oath. Among those scheduled to testify are: Michelle L. Doyle, U.S. Department of Education; Charles C. Haynes, The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center; Barry W. Lynn, Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Steven T. McFarland, Center for Law and Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society; Oliver Thomas, National Council of Churches; Warren A. Nord, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Elliot Mincberg, People for the American Way; Marc D. Stern, American Jewish Congress; Ronald D. Rissler, The Rutherford Institute; William A. Donohue, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; Mohamed A. Nimer, Council on American Islamic Relations; Howard P. Berkowitz, Anti-Defamation League; Mark N. Troobnick, The American Center for Law and Justice; Julie R. Underwood, National School Boards Association; and Ira Glasser, American Civil Liberties Union.

Time will be allocated at the end of the hearing for brief testimony by persons who have not been subpoenaed. All such persons are interviewed by staff prior to testifying.

The entire hearing is recorded and a transcript of this proceeding will be published.

The Commission plans to hold the second hearing in New York City on June 12, and a third hearing on June 23 at a site to be determined. A statutory report with findings and recommendations will be prepared and submitted to the President and Congress when the hearings are completed.

Although this is the Commission's first public hearing on the subject of schools and religion, the issue of civil rights-related religious discrimination has been the focus of other Commission activities. It held a consultation on the topic "Religious Discrimination: A Neglected Issue" in 1979, published a 1983 report titled "Religion in the Constitution: A Delicate Balance," issued a 1990 statement on racial and religious bigotry in America, and held a 1994 briefing on religious discrimination.