Religiously Neutral Public Schooling
Public schools model the First Amendment's guarantee of
religious liberty to the citizenry. Educators in public schools
have an obligation to the youngsters who attend (and their families) to
guard the freedom of conscience rights of each and every student. The
obligation applies to teachers of any faith, or none. The guarantee is
for children of any faith, or none.
A child's worldview beliefs (religious or nonreligious)
remain the prerogative of the family that entrusts the education of the
child to the public school. So, to live up the promise of
neutrality (religious liberty for all the students), public
school educators put on their "establishment clause hat" when
they begin the school day and wear it until their school
responsibilities are completed.
Carrying through on the neutrality mandate means
that public schools:
may not inculcate religious belief in youngsters
may not inculcate nonreligious belief in youngsters
may not inhibit religious belief
may not inhibit nonreligious belief
Whereas the teaching and promulgation of a particular faith
system is accepted as appropriate when children are entrusted to
founded and funded solely by individual religious organizations,
public schooling is different.
It is both inappropriate and illegal for any public school or
any public school teacher to promote religion in general or to teach or to endorse in any way the
concepts or dogmas associated with any specific religion or
The "neutrality stipulation" does not
mean, however, that public schools cannot teach about
religion. Nor does it prohibit their teaching about
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Impartiality is an academic imperative for teaching about religion or
public schools. It encompasses recognition of the rights of
people living in a free society to choose between the various
faith systems as well as their right to reject any one or all of
such faith systems.
It is proper and
it is legal to teach about religion objectively as
part of a public school program in courses where such teaching
is authorized by the state educational system and while
avoiding the practice of or instruction in religion.
The web site Teaching
about Religion with a View to Diversity: Worldview Education
provides an overview, teacher guidelines, and resource materials
focusing on academic objectivity in teaching about religion and
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It is important for those responsible for and involved in
public education to be fully cognizant of the broad spectrum of
religious and nonreligious perspectives that may be present in any American
classroom, and to ensure that each childís freedom of
conscience is duly valued. No childís beliefs may be favored
over anotherís. Nor may any childís religious belief or
absence of belief be disparaged. All students are deserving
of commensurate regard whether they hold to a familiar religion,
to an unfamiliar or minority one, or reject religion
entirely. Each budding citizen has a freedom of conscience and
belief deserving of respect.
For a teacher to honor each studentís equal right to freedom of
conscience is not the same as validating the truthfulness of their
outlooks or endowing the different views with equivalent cultural
legitimacy. Rather, it is modeling for the students the governmental
principle that each citizen possesses religious liberty.
It is significant to note that over twenty percent of the
human race today either has remained free from or decided not
to embrace religion.5 There is
considerable historical evidence that such individuals have long
been players in the human story, and so an objective rendering
of prior times obliges educators to acknowledge these persons.
That is to say, a fair mandate for teaching about religions
needs also to include teaching about the beliefs of those who
reject a religion or religions.
Teaching about religion in an impartial manner necessitates
acknowledging the legitimacy of lives lived according to varying
belief systems. A fair and just curriculum gives recognition to
the lives committed to a nonreligious way of life as well
as to a religious one.
To teach only about religious belief systems and not teach that many
individuals discard and/or disregard religion is prejudicial to academic
integrity. Teaching about freethinking as it has come into play in
history and as it exists today is part and parcel of the "teaching
about religion" ballgame.
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