Why Religion Should Not Be Taught in Public Schools – Olivia Godfrey

By September 23, 2013 Logic 3 Comments

A widely discussed and highly controversial issue throughout all of the United States is whether or not religion should be taught in public schools. Senator Phillip A. Hart from Michigan said, “I’m a Catholic and I hope a devout one, but I think that the public school classroom is no place for me to try and impose my world formula for prayer on children who don’t share it, and for that very reason, I don’t want my children in a public school classroom to be exposed to someone else’s religion or formula.” Hart is stating that he believes everyone should have freedom to have his own beliefs. Other people’s religious views should not be forced upon others, especially children. People like this do not agree with those who believe that religion should be allowed in schools for various reasons. For example, many people who do believe religion should be taught in public schools argue that they have the “freedom of speech” granted to them by the First Amendment. But does this mean that one can go out into a public place and speak out anything he wants? This is where the fine line is drawn between religious and state matters. Religion should not overflow into the government funded education. Religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because more controversy would be present if religion was permitted, many public school officials do not know enough about other religions beside their own, and lastly, teaching children about every religion is simply impossible. These three points all lead to the conclusion that allowing religion to be taught in public schools will only create even more problems and issues than were present before.

To begin, religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because too many controversies would be present; therefore, more arguments would start. The word religion means, “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects” (dictionary.com). “To be taught religion” means to learn about each religion and its beliefs and faiths in order to understand it or to believe what the specific religion teaches or believes. Nowadays in society any kind of disagreement can and often does start an argument. The public school, however, is no place for more disputes to be made over religion. There are already arguments present in the public schools without religion being discussed. In the article “Getting Religion Right in Public Schools” written by Charles C. Haynes, Haynes writes, “A cursory glance at the daily headlines reminds us that religious differences are at the heart of many of the world’s most violent conflicts. And, in the United States, rapidly expanding religious diversity presents daunting new challenges for building one nation out of many faiths and cultures in the 21st century” (9). In this excerpt Haynes is trying to reveal that many of the roots of our country’s problems are the religious controversies in our nation. If the public school system does decide to allow religions to be taught, then it will only create more problems. There is no way to get around it. The more one teaches about religion, the more people will argue about what is true and what is not true. The teachers cannot force a student to think a certain way or believe in a certain religion, but the student must think for himself and decide what to believe and what not to believe. The First Amendment of Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” There are many interpretations of the First Amendment. Because of the various interpretations of this amendment, it would be hard for all of the public school systems to answer the questions: to what extent should religion be taught if it is allowed to be taught? Does giving the people the freedom of religion and speech mean that religion should not be allowed to be taught? Or does this mean that to a certain point religion should be allowed to be taught? These are the types of questions that lead to many disagreements as well as arguments. Mona M. Abo-Zena writes in her article titled “Faith from the Fringes,” “Religious diversities prompt a range of student interactions and reactions” (16). Abo-Zena, when stating that religious diversities prompt a range of interactions, means that these interactions and reactions can be productive but, they can also be destructive. It all depends on each situation. But, there is no need to put children at the risk of having to defend their faith in front of others who do not believe the same as they might. Children should not be forced into arguments that they themselves cannot control. All of this to say that allowing religion to be taught in public schools would only lead to more controversies over religion and the start of many arguments that could have been avoided.

Another reason why religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools is because many school officials and teachers do not know enough about other religions besides their own. The article “Getting Religion Right in Public School” written by Charles C. Haynes states, “Despite the recent increase in study about religion in schools, many Americans still have little or no knowledge about religions other than their own—and even that knowledge is often thin” (9). This is a problem because if public schools did decide to allow religion to be taught, the teachers and officials would have to be taught about all of the various religions first before they would be able to teach their students. This does not mean that teachers in public schools do not know of or about other religions besides their own, but it is merely impossible to really know and understand every religion present in America, just as Haynes has presented. This excerpt clearly defines why allowing religion in public schools brings about the problem of teachers being ignorant of many religions. This alone should make people think twice before allowing their children to attend a public school which allows religion to be taught. Also, another issue is that each teacher will probably only be well versed in his own religion. Mona M. Abo-Zena writes in her article “Faith from the Fringes,” “Teachers have tremendous power to validate or deny, to recognize and illuminate or ignore any sensitive topic in a classroom” (17). This statement demonstrates how having teachers with different personal religious views and convictions can affect the children they teach. This is not how religion should be taught. Whenever someone is given power, he can either use this for better or for worse, and in the case of allowing religion to be taught in public schools by uninformed teachers, this power will be used in a negative way. It may even lead to the issue of each teacher putting emphasis or even sometimes leaving out certain parts of a religion because of personal preference. This would lead to issues such as offending families of children by making some students feel of more importance. Many children in public schools are bullied for reasons such as clothing, grades, and popularity, so what is going to keep others from learning of one minority’s religion and using it against them? The way a teacher portrays each religion may have a negative connotation, so it does not seem right that public schools should create an environment where even a child’s religion is mocked. Thomas Hutton’s article “Teaching and the Bible,” “…it’s easy to do badly” (39) referring to the teaching of religion. Teaching religion is not as simple as some may perceive it to be. Religion is often a tender subject for some people, which means that when teaching about religion, one must be sensitive to others. However, this cannot be guaranteed by all of the teachers in a public school system. All in all, because the teachers in public schools have so much power and can use this to, not intentionally, but negatively affect the children, public schools should not be allowed to teach about religion.

Lastly, religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because teaching various children about many different religions is simply hard to do well. To start, it is not very likely that every religion can be taught to every child. This is very unreasonable, yet if it is not done this way then many people may become offended. Just think about how much time it would take to thoroughly teach about one religion along with the beliefs and rituals. In the book “Religion and Education” published by Bonnie Szumski, it is written, “… the goal of having ‘objective’ or ‘balanced’ teaching in respect to religion, and specifically the Bible, would be difficult if not almost impossible in the current social climate” (51). This means that nowadays it is very unrealistic to think that when public schools try and teach about religions they will interpret and know everything about each religion in order to do it justice. Now this is not a problem for private schools because many are focused on one religion. Yet for a public school, many different religions are present. Therefore, if the public schools wish to teach religion, then every religion must be taught. However, schools do not have the time to teach about various religions. Public schools will not be able to provide enough of a balanced religious atmosphere for religious minorities. In Mona M. Abo-Zena’s article “Faith from the Fringes.” She writes, “Religious minorities may alternately feel proud, unique, unwelcomed, ashamed, or targeted in public schools” (15). Clearly this would be a major issue if religion was allowed to be taught in public schools. Diminishing students for their beliefs should not be what the public schools system is all about. Those who are religious minorities are people who have religions that are not as well known or as widely practiced as others in America. Even though this may not be a large people group, they are still people and have the right as American citizens to receive respect towards their religious beliefs. Therefore, religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because teaching about every religion well in public schools is simply impossible.

While the point that allowing religion to be taught in public schools will lead to too many controversies and arguments is a valid point, many people argue that this should not keep children from broadening their minds by learning about different religions. In the article “Getting Religion Right in Public Schools,” Charles C. Haynes writes, “Public schools can (and should) teach about religion, where appropriate, as part of a complete education” (13). When one first looks at this statement it seems to sound as well as look logically correct. But the downfall is the phrase “complete education.” What defines “complete education” in public schools? This is where the problem lies. There is no way that public schools will be able to find a clear and precise definition for a “complete education”. Since there is no way to find a definition that everyone would agree on, this would create conflict and start arguments. This clearly shows why the point prior is valid. Public schools should not allow religion to be taught because it will lead to too many controversies as well as arguments.

Although it is true that religion should not be allowed to be taught in public schools because there is not enough time or resources to do so, some people believe that these should not be restricting factors when it comes to religion. An excerpt from the book “Religion and Education” states, “For example, the late Justice William Brennan, in a concurring opinion in Abington v. Schempp, stated that, ‘it would be impossible to teach meaningfully many subjects in the social sciences or the humanities without some mention of religion.’” (43). When a student broadens his knowledge of other religions, this will overflow into his knowledge in other classes. This is a very valid point, but, there is still the issue of being able to teach about every religion well in a restricted amount of time. In order not to offend any students in the school, without singling them out, it is necessary to address every religion and what the beliefs and practices are. But this is simply impossible because this is time consuming as well as simply hard to do well. Often times school curriculums will make assumptions about certain religions and people that may not be true. In Thomas Hutton’s article “Teaching and the Bible,” he writes, “Bible instruction in public schools sometimes has made assumptions about religion and student that are inconsistent with a neutral, academic approach” (40). This quote fully supports the idea that when teaching religion, false assumptions are often made. This however is not beneficial to the school or the students, therefore leading to issues. This is why it is better for everyone, teachers as well as students, that religion is not allowed to be taught because it would only cut the time of other important classes as well as be hard to do well as to not offend any students.

Public schools are supposed to be a place where all religions are welcomed but when people who do not want to be outspoken about their beliefs are forced to, then this will only cause conflict. In the book “Religion and Education” published by Bonnie Szumski, it is written when discussing the issue of prayer in public schools, “Who gets to choose the prayer? What happens to those students who find the prayers offensive or against their own religious beliefs? What happens to those who do not–for whatever reason–wish to take part in prayer?” (36). Students already are insecure about their popularity, grades, and clothing at school so why make it even harder for a student to be himself in an environment that was created to help him? This should not be the main goal of public schools. If issues will be created by allowing religion to be taught in public schools, then the risk is too high. Many students are already insecure about what they believe and some do not even know what they do believe yet. Public schools do not need to try and force all of this knowledge about other religions in their brains when many do not even know what to believe. The main point is that religion should be for the church and home, not for the public school system. Indeed, religion is a major part of America, but there should be a fine line between church and state and this is where this line should be drawn: between religion and education.

 

Abo-Zena, Mona M. “Faith from the Fringes: Religious minorities in school.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.4 (2011). 15-19. 12 February 2013. http://www.avl.lib.al.us/resources/display_resources.php
Haynes, Charles C. “Getting Religion Right in Public Schools.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.4 (2011). 8-14. 12 February 2013. http://www.avl.lib.al.us/resources/display_resources.php
Head, Tom. Religion and Education. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Hutton, Thomas. Teaching and the Bible.” American School Board Journal
195.6 (2008). 38-41. 12 February 2013.
http://www.avl.lib.al.us/resources/display_resources.php 

3 Comments

  • MWANSA PATRICK says:

    I think Religious Education should be taught in public school because it contains some unique and important knowledge to human beings which empirical sciences can fail to explain.

  • Garrett F says:

    I believe teaching religion in a historical context is perfectly fine. But when you start to preach about how you must worship your God your stepping over the line.

  • Paul says:

    My opinion is that it is one or the other, we either separate religion from school altogether, completely across the board or, we allow a completely open minded environment across the board. I honestly feel that being open and accepting of all forms of religion (which does not call for the harming of others) and teaching our young generations to be open minded, and respectful of all religions and that everyone has a right to believe in which ever they choose, or not to believe any. Most of our world problems stem from ignorance and intolerence of religions, and maybe by teaching young generations to be open to, understanding of, etc other religions it could possibly curb some of that tension across the globe over time, who knows. I think it is great to see a child who shows interest in wanting to learn as much as they can about all aspects of as many various cultures and belief systems as they can, it leads to a broader knowledge and a better person. I don’t know, these are just my own opinions.

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