Monday, May 11, 2009

Religion in Schools

Religion, faith, and belief are used interchangeably; yet are meant to express three very different ideas. Religion is the belief in a divine superhuman power or principle, such as the creator of all things. Faith, however, is belief without evidence and belief is the acceptance of something as true or actual. Acceptance is the key to the words faith and belief. To have faith in something you must first believe it and accept it. Everyone has faith and belief, but not everyone believes in a superhuman power.

The debate over the separation of church and state has been going on without end and has always been a hot topic of discussion. Many people have very strong opinions for or against the separation, and also there are those who have a circumstantial opinion. Part of the separation of church and state is the highly debatable subtopic of religion and prayer in public schools. While some believe that prayer in school is beneficial to the development of children and of their faith, others believe that it could completely denounce the faith. With so many religions and faiths in today’s world, how can it be determined which religion can be taught or practiced in school? Living in the “Bible Belt”, otherwise known as the south, I have heard many outrageous ideas on religion, faith, and beliefs as a whole. In the ninth grade I was told that I was going to hell because I did not go to church. This person believed that not going to church meant you had no faith and no beliefs. I was raised agnostic, without religion and church, but undeniably with beliefs and faith.

Public schools across the country have different clubs and organizations that support religion. The majority of these organizations are in support of one particular religion, whereas it should be for religion as a whole. In a school with many students, not every student will have the same religion. There is expected to be a wide variety of religions, which makes it impossible to please every student through organizations or even with courses at the school. Religion is something that should be very personal and private. Based on this, I do not believe that religion, more specifically “preaching” and prayer, should be integrated into public schools.

Everyone in the United States has the freedom to religion, the freedom to believe what he or she wants. In a poll conducted by USA Today, it was found that 71% of Americans believe the bible should be used in classes and 78% of Americans believe there should be prayer in schools. In another article in USA Today, the opinions of Al Gore and George Bush on this issue were reported. George Bush argued that religion and religious freedom should not be “stopped at the schoolhouse door”. Bush stated that “Religion is a personal, private matter and parents, not public school officials, should decide their children's religious training…I also believe that schools should not restrict students' religious liberties. The free exercise of faith is the fundamental right of every American, and that right doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door.”(USA Today)

Bush believes that religion is private for each person, and it is also their right to have their religion. While Bush’s opinion is very strong against prayer in public schools instituted by school officials, Al Gore had a very strong opinion as well. Al Gore states that “'Faith is not something that can be left at the schoolhouse door, and indeed the Constitution does not attempt to impose such an unreasonable standard. I support protecting religious freedom for all faiths. However, I oppose and I believe the Constitution prohibits mandated school prayer in public schools.”(USA Today)

Gore agrees with Bush in that religion and faith cannot be forgotten about when you step into school, but he also believes that the Constitution should be amended to “better” the rule on the separation of church and state to include the public school system. Religion is a private and personal matter and if it is brought in and instituted in the school system, there will be much conflict.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) believes that the Constitutional rights should be upheld in any governmental building or function. In a statement on the issue, the ADL said “history has demonstrated that the inevitable result of a union of government and religion is the destruction of freedom for those who believe differently from the majority.” (ADL) When religion is brought into schools, how is one to know which person belongs to which religious group without asking them? Without knowledge of this information, it would be discriminatory to institute religion into public schools. There would be no possible way to know which religious beliefs to allow in the school. There are certain approaches schools must take when teaching this subject matter. The schools position must remain neutral, objective, balanced and factual, according to the ADL. Also, the ADL explains “Teaching about religion is permissible when it is presented as part of a secular educational program. Such programs should teach the role of religion in the historical, cultural, economic and social development of the United States and other nations and should instill tolerance and respect for a pluralistic society.” (ADL)

It is impermissible to teach the teachings and beliefs of these religions in a manner of converting. It is all right to simply teach the foundations of world religions, thus they are the foundations of the world and society today. It is also unconstitutional for educators and school officials to teach religion and unconstitutional for school wide, student lead prayer.
Different people have different opinions. Whether it is about race, heritage, gender, people have many different thoughts and feelings towards these subjects. However, religion and prayer in public schools is an important issue. School officials, religious officials, and governmental officials need to realize that prayer in school is not feasible. It will not be practical to recite prayers over the intercom system or at school events. It is not fair to those who do not read from the Bible, Torah, Koran, or any other religious book. Imagine going to religious service, and having someone read out of a book you do not know the prayers of. Imagine that this belief, this religion, and the prayers being recited to you contradict what you were expecting and what you know. This would be unfair, and maybe somewhat of a disheartenment. Putting religion and prayer in schools, where it does not belong, causes the same feeling, a feeling of discomfort and unfairness. Religion is a right that everyone has, and to institute it into a public school, where there are bound to be children with different religions, is the same as denying someone of their rights and taking them away. It is discrimination against whichever religion is not taught. While prayer and religion may help aid in development, not every child or every person will develop the same. Different backgrounds, including religion and culture, produce different results. Religion should not be allowed in public schools, it would cause more harm than it will do good.

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