Thursday, January 12, 2012

Does Religion Belong in School?

There's been quite a bit in the news as of late regarding religion in our public schools -- from Ginger Strivelli's request for the equal distribution of religious materials to religious rally assemblies taking place during school hours. 

The Separation of Church and State is clear -- religion has no place in affairs of the state.  When it comes to enforcing this however, routine occurances in communities across this nation prove to show that it may not be such a black-and-white concept afterall. 

So where are we to draw the line?  It's easy to say "simple: no religion at all".  Yet the world itself is not free of religion, so how is it helpful to young minds to pretend it to be so?  We can't place students in a neutral environment as they mature and grow and expect them, at the same time, to know and understand the diversity they will encounter as they enter the adult world.

Exposure and explanation are necessary for these absorbant little brains.  Just as children need exposure to numbers in order to learn mathematics, they need exposure to the differences around them in order to know and understand the complexities of America's sociopolitcal state of being.  Send them into the "rat race" thinking everything is set at some homeostatic neutrality and they're going to be in for a rude awakening. Their school careers should be preparing them for a future in the real world  -- and this real world includes people of differing faiths, cultures, classes, values, hobbies and hair colors!  To teach them otherwise is counter-productive. 

Should we practice religion in schools?  Absolutely not!  But there is also nothing beneficial in pretending it does not exist.  We live among streets that boast a variety of faces, races, colors and cultures.  To feign that we are all alike is ignorant.  So how is it that we can express our nation's diverse collections and at the same time respect one another's differing customs and beliefs?  Ah, the million dollar question indeed! 

Past visitors to Pagan Presence may remember that I faced a situation in the fall where-in my son's school district sought to remove all celebrations from school in the name of political correctness. We would accept the stripping of our children's memories just to avoid the very diversity that founded this nation at its earliest beginnings?  Grow a backbone School Boards!

On the other hand, we also cannot permit the blatant disregard for the respect of all.  My nephew is growing up in the south [Pensacola Florida].  At a local public high school in this gulf coast area teachers were citing The Bible as fact in the classroom.  Such actions brought a lawsuit to the school board, resulting in the protection of the first amendment rights of the student body.  The court ruled that "School Officials shall not cite to the Bible or any sacred text as authority for  historical or scientific fact ."  A press release by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] stated that Pace High School students "not only face overt compulsion to adopt the religious beliefs of school officials, but also must contend with subtle, coercive pressures to conform their religious beliefs to those favored by school officials,". 

Teaching about differing cultures and beliefs is a far cry from pressuring students to convert.  And that's where the line gets blurry.  The intentions of the educators will make all the difference.  I think it would be beneficial for my sons to go through school learning about the amazing flavors that exist in the unfolding story of humanity but not when the objectives become conversion. 

Educate; do not coerce, and then you can provide nothing but knowledge to the open minds before you.

But I gather school boards would rather take an easier path by excluding beliefs and customs from their cirriculum.  Well, as they say, "ignorance is bliss" but is it really what we want for our children?


  1. Great post! You make some good points here.

  2. I can agree with you up to a point. While I understand where you are coming from on the grounds of preparing our children for the real world, giving anyone the reins to teach religion would be a very scary tightrope to walk. Where can you draw the line between education and coercion? Your line may differ from the teachers line, and their line may differ from that of the school board. I think that it would be fine to offer a "Religions of the World" or "Religion Through the Ages" type of courses, but they should in no way be required. In fact, I would insist on parental permission first. As a pagan parent I would be more than happy to allow my children take these types of courses. But I would certainly keep an eye on how the class is run and what material is being covered. I want my children to learn and absorb as much as they can. But on their terms, not on anyone else's.


  3. You make some excellent points Kourtney. And I do agree that "if given an inch", there are those that would attempt to "take a mile".

  4. This is a tough one. I can relate to both your views and Kourtney's here. Sometimes I think we (as a population - movement groups, etc) make too big of a deal out of things...for example, gay rights. I recall several years ago when everywhere you turned (TV, newspapers, etc) the main topic was focused on gay folks. During this time, I witnessed more 10 and 12 year olds insisting they were now "gay" than ever in my life. Kids at this age probably don't even have ANY sense of their sexuality yet but the cool thing was to hop on the "gay wagon" and "be identified as SOMETHING". I think back to the days of the Pioneers (an era I should have born to), and I believe school should be about academics - things like religion and sex are subjects better left to individuals and their families. Then again, there are fine lines about what each person (including me) will deem appropriate or factual...or even "necessary".