On March 8, 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a public school in Illinois had violated First Amendments rights by teaching about religion during school hours and on school property. The Constitution of the United States states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” For years, the question about what role religion should or should not play in public education has been debated. The meaning of separation of Church and state continues to be a troublesome yet necessary conversation.
A recent lawsuit against public schools in West Virginia regarding Bible classes arose the ongoing question of where the line that separates church and state should be. Public schools in Mercer County have taught Bible stories for nearly 80 years. While the Bible class is popular among the community, parents supporting the lawsuit argue that popular does not equal “legal,” reported CBS.
The lawsuit was filed by a kindergartner’s mother – an atheist – who does not want her child to attend the weekly Bible classes, but also fears her child might be “ostracized” by other children or identified as a non-believer or non-Christian.
We The Threefold Advocate believe no parent or child should be fearful about expressing their religious views or lack thereof in public schools. There should be no discrimination regarding the expression of or restrain from practicing their beliefs. However, we recognize that the public school system should encourage and foster an atmosphere where children and parents are comfortable and open to learn about other religions.
The role of religion in education should not be one of hindrance or control, but rather, one that stirs learning and an open mind to welcome differing worldviews.
The problem with the integration of the study of religions at public schools is that many confuse education with devotion. With such a strong influence of the world’s religions in the United States, students should receive an education that encourages them to explore and ask faith-related questions.
We believe it is imperative that the younger generations grow up with an awareness of the cultures that surround them. The school system, as well as parents should consider integrating the study of the world’s religions in the classroom. However, clear boundaries must be established. Students may learn about religions without being forced to adopt a particular one. They must also be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of discrimination or restraint. We believe encouraging students to learn about other religions does not only nurtures an environment of tolerance but also of appreciation for diversity, tradition and history.
“Religious Liberty, Public Education, and the Future of American Democracy,” states principles supported by 24 organizations in the U.S. It establishes that “public schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion.” According to principle IV, public schools should be places where people respect and fairly treat religious views. Schools demonstrate this fairness when “they ensure that the curriculum includes study abroad religion, where appropriate, as an important part of a complete education.”
We believe the public-school system should abide by these principles and move toward creating a culture of tolerance and respect where no student would feel ostracized or targeted for religious reasons.