Thursday, January 18, 2007

Religion in school

Article found on the website of the Orange County Register:

Students do not give up their constitutional rights at the door to the schoolhouse

Everyone celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday Monday recognizing the religious leader who led a faith-based campaign against government racial discrimination. Yet few will notice that today is Religious Freedom Day, created to celebrate the constitutional right, which 300 million of us still enjoy, just as did the Rev. King.

In his proclamation to note the observance, President George W. Bush called on all Americans to "commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities in their schools, place of worship, neighborhoods and homes."

In their schools? Yes. As the Supreme Court noted in 1969, public school students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

Despite what you might have heard about "separation of church and state," the expression of religious beliefs remains a constitutionally protected right, even in public schools. Many school officials need an education on this point.

Just last month, for example, school officials told an Illinois high school senior that the statement she wanted in the yearbook was too religious and couldn't be submitted.

About the same time, another high school senior in Washington state wanted to write a religious children's book for a project, but was denied because the school's policy requires projects be sectarian, not religious. Maybe you've experienced something similar closer to home.

In both cases, officials relented after attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice, based in Washington, D.C., sent letters to the schools explaining that the Constitution guarantees students religious freedom and freedom of speech because these are unalienable, God-given rights, not privileges permitted by men or benefits bestowed by the state.

ACLJ's mission is to "educate, promulgate, conciliate, and where necessary, litigate, to ensure that those rights are protected ... ." The organization keeps very busy.

If anyone is unclear on these rights, the U.S. Department of Education sums them up this way:

•Students can pray, read their Bible or other religious books and talk about their faith at school during school hours.

•Students can organize prayer groups and religious clubs and announce their meetings.

•Students can express their faith in their class work and homework.

•Teachers can organize prayer groups and Bible studies.

•Students may be able to go off campus to have a Bible study during school hours.

•Students can express their faith at a school event, including graduation ceremonies.

On this nationally proclaimed Religious Freedom Day it probably would be a good time for public school teachers, principals and other officials to mention these rights to their students.

So now to how I feel about this. Personally, I would have preferred the author include all religions (or lack thereof) in her/his article. I think there was a very distinct Christian overtone to it and while I myself do believe in Christ, I also realize there are a lot of other beliefs out there that deserve just as much freedom as the rest. Depending on where you are or who the student or teacher is, I've seen plenty of Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Latter-Day Saints, Catholics and the like get persecuted on one level or another just for believing differently than those around them.
No, we cannot and should not shove a belief system down kids throats when they don't believe in them but we also cannot just ignore their existence and force everyone to live and talk as if no one believes in anything. I believe the best way for us all to understand each other is to open our minds and our hearts and allow those that believe differently from us to educate us on their beliefs, their history, how they feel and see the world yesterday, today and tomorrow. We may or may not agree with what they say but the more we understand each other, the easier it will be to solve conflicts and live together as peacefully as possible. No screaming, no insulting, no assaulting. Just discussion. The more we have, the better our society will be for it.
So, share your beliefs with me. Explain your customs and traditions. Help me understand how YOU see the world and please allow me to do the same. You'll see not everyone even in one religion is the same. We may have very similar basic theological beliefs but we all see the world through different eyes. We all come from different backgrounds. We've all lived separate lives. I'm not like any other Latter-Day Saint that I know but I do have a strong testimony and I fail a lot to live up to my own standards but I'm working every day to improve that.
So coming back around, let's allow students (and teachers in a structured way) to express themselves so long as it doesn't detract from the educational process and so long as the discussion is kept civil and no one is being persecuted for their beliefs. No, sanctioned school prayer and the like SHOULD be kept to private institutions but yes, allow the students or teachers to organize a fully volunteer group for worship or discussion of non-worship. Let's allow Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan and yes even Atheist groups to exist in school if they choose. Just so long as no student is forced or assigned to join any of them. It also shouldn't interfere with classes, homework or other things that are the main reasons students are at school in the first place.

So there, I've said my peace. Have a good day.


At 9:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Everything voluntary is legal. -Aaron


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