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Religion now being back in public schools across the us

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice. Perhaps more so than other forms of identity, for many, religion evokes a strong sense of exclusivity. Unlike other forms of identity, for many, particularly the religiously orthodox, religious identity is based on a belief in absolute truth.

And for some of the orthodox, adherence to this truth is central to their salvation. Further, unlike cultural identity, religion is oftentimes exclusive in its fundamental claims and assertions.

In short, matters of religious faith are indeed high stakes. Yet its treatment in public schools is, for the most part, relatively scant.

Some of this is because of uncertainty among educators as to what the law permits, and for others it is uncertainty of its rightful place in democratic pluralistic schools. This relationship, often fraught with tension, attempts to reconcile often incommensurable public goals. The article begins with a review of the history of religion in the public domain.

Since public schools are often thought of as microcosms religion now being back in public schools across the us society, it is important to understand the relationship of religion within society. Following this overview, the article delves more deeply into seminal court cases that have more or less cemented the legal constraints of religion in public education.

With legal parameters in mind, the next section explores the relationship of religion in public schools from curricular perspectives. Moving beyond a discussion of creationism in science class, this section aims to examine the benefits of broader inclusion of religious perspectives as a way to approximate pluralistic and democratic schools. The final section explores broader concerns for a liberal democracy—pluralism, autonomy, and respect—as it wrestles with the appropriateness of religion and religious identity in public schools.

History of Religion in the Public Sphere To understand the contemporary relationship between religion and public schooling requires a review of the history of religion in the public sphere.

Many schoolchildren in the United States have been taught that the first European settlers to the colonies fled Europe and the Church of England to seek freedom to exercise their religious beliefs. And while this is true, far from the feel-good narrative that some like to extend Baritz, 1964the first settlers, the Puritans, were an extremely rigid and dogmatic group of religious believers who settled in the colonies not for freedom of religion but to practice and entrench their religious beliefs Kaveny, 2013.

They did not believe in a secular state but rather believed their version of Christianity to be predominant, and as far as they could see, the only justifiable established religion Fiske, 1889.

Horace Mann famously called for the creation of the Common School Hinsdale, 1898. Though Mann grew up, like so many, in a deeply religious home, he did not think these new public schools needed to be centrally religious. Morality, more so than literal scriptural reading, was what Mann called for. For Mann, the chief concern in creating this Common School was attending to the increasing social strife that came as a result of the development of industry Mann, 1965.

Not only did they look different than the Northern and Western European immigrants, but they came with different languages, customs, and cultures.

  • Generally speaking, when focusing on the major court cases that have impacted public education, the neutral separation position has carried the day when it comes to issues such as school prayer, religious instruction, and released time;
  • Can you do the Bible alone?
  • Multiculturalism A recent text by philosopher Liz Jackson makes the case that Muslims, in particular, are done a disservice when schools do not attend substantively to the study of Islam in schools;
  • You can have chaplains in the military;
  • In that decision, the court ruled that public schools at their commencements may not sponsor or promote prayer, even if it has a nonsectarian character;
  • To complicate matters further, even if we were to determine a mutually agreeable way forward for groups who are deeply divided by religious and political beliefs, what role would even more diverse individuals within those groups have in articulating their vision for a good life?

Assimilating them into a decidedly American culture was a goal for Mann and his allies Hayes, 2006. On the one hand was the belief that if you wanted the kind of hard-working, morally upright, conscientious citizens, then religion necessarily needed to be a part of the Common School.

On the other hand, the religion that was foundational to the school did not need to be sectarian so as to privilege one group to the exclusion of others. In many schools, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, McGuffey Readers were the main textbook Westerhoff, 1978.

The Readers, unlike their predecessor the New England Primer, mirrored this nondenominational Protestantism by inculcating morality through a veiled Christianity as opposed to a direct and overt use of the King James Bible in efforts to educate young citizens to become literate.

The McGuffey Reader, in comparison, invoked a more nondenominational, less orthodox, religious tone. Modernization and Industrialization A significant, some might argue fatal, shift for those advocating the centrality of religion to public schools came in the early mid-20th century. As has always been the case, public schools, serving as microcosms of society, reflect not just the dominant values and ethos of society, but also serve an important economic and intellectual purpose.

That is, to the degree that the needs of society change, so must the public schools.

School Graduations, Religion and the Courts

Public schools were the central place to prepare the young for future citizenship. While an important part of that citizenship was moral and social, increasingly with industrialization, that role was also intellectual and economic Fraser, 2001. The frame through which public schools cultivated curriculum changed substantially. For example, the type of citizen and future worker needed expanded from someone who was morally upright to someone who could contribute to the burgeoning Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.

Shifting from the absolutism and fixidity of religion to the flexibility and tentativeness of science required a rethinking of pedagogy and curriculum Greene, 2012. The idea that the world was not absolute and fixed but ever changing, caused a real need for a different sort of education. As nondenominational Protestantism lost its stronghold over public schools in favor of a more science-focused secularism, Christian Orthodox—the Evangelical—become its harshest critics. They argue that the removal of God religion from the public sphere is a threat to their faith and a violation religion now being back in public schools across the us their rights Larson, 1997.

Court cases related to religion and public education seem to lend some credence to their claims. The tension between the religiously orthodox, specifically evangelical Christians, and the secular public schools began in the mid-20th century and has persisted to the present day Deckman, 2004.

To survey popular media, particularly cable news, one might depict the current state of tension between those advocating for more religion in public schools and those advocating for its removal in the following way.

On the one hand you have religious zealots making calls for prayer, creationism, released time, religious clubs, posting the Ten Commandments Rogers, 2010 ; Shreve, 2010 and to the other extreme you have atheist zealots who refuse to consider any idea that has some association with religion as appropriate for public schools Hedges, 2008. While these caricatures might fit some in each of these groups, contrary to the popular media depiction is, instead, a conflict built upon a reliance on different aspects of the first part of the First Amendment.

Given this, it is important to understand the legal context in which these tensions arise.

  • The first prong asks what is the primary purpose of the enactment?
  • She does not believe the state should make special exemptions for religious groups if it endangers individual liberty;
  • So if the valedictory speech has to be shown to the principal before it is delivered and the principal knows that it includes a prayer, the school is going to be held responsible for the content of the speech, including the prayer;
  • In deciding that it was unconstitutional for the public schools to pay the salaries of the parochial school teachers, the court determined that while primary purpose and primary effect were central to deciding constitutionality, a third prong, which says that the enactment must not foster an excessive entanglement between religion and government was needed;
  • The first prong asks what is the primary purpose of the enactment?

The establishment clause, as it is commonly called, is meant to protect individuals from the establishment of an official state religion. In contrast, the function of the free exercise clause is to protect individual religious freedom. In terms of legal impact, the establishment clause has historically garnered more attention because of the wide-sweeping impact a legal decision will have.

In contrast, free exercise cases address issues that pertain largely to religious minorities, so the impact is smaller and more context dependent. Typically, when justices decide Establishment Clause cases they are asked to determine whether an enactment effectively establishes, or supports, a state religion.

There are generally three different judicial perspectives on establishment, strict separation, accommodation, and neutral separation.

Strict separationists invoke the idea of a wall separating Church and State. For strict separationists there is no instance in which an enactment would be tolerated Neuhaus, 2007. Barring this, certain accommodations are permissible as long as government does not prefer one religion to another Massaro, 2005. Finally, the neutral separation position examines enactments with a slightly different lens arguing that what is most important is official State neutrality between religion and non-religion and thus argue that to adhere to the establishment clause may mean at times accommodating religion if it is to maintain neutrality between religion and non-religion Fox, 2011 ; Temperman, 2010.

Generally speaking, when focusing on the major court cases that have impacted public education, the neutral separation position has carried the day when it comes to issues such as school prayer, religious instruction, and released time. For our discussion this is important because it is the application of the 14th amendment to the 1st amendment that holds public schools and public school employees to the restrictions of the 1st amendment Everson v.

The 14th amendment application to the 1st amendment is also essential since it is the states, rather than the federal government, that hold substantive influence over public school curriculum and policy.

Several watershed cases have firmly established the preference for the neutral separation position. Arguing that school personnel were involved with the administration and execution of this program was tantamount to supporting religion it was found unconstitutional. In contrast, the courts sided with the school district in Zorach v. Key Court Cases In the middle of the 20th century it was commonplace for the school day to begin with a religious prayer or invocation. Beginning in 1962, cases made their way through the courts, and in every instance the court found such prayers violated the establishment clause.

Further, because the prayer was broadcast at the start of the school day, students had no choice captive audience but to listen. The following year, the court in an 8-1 decision in Abington School District v. Of greater importance in this case was the distinction made between the unconstitutionality of practicing religion now being back in public schools across the us in public school with the constitutionally permissible act of studying religion in public school.

That is, if there is an educational purpose to studying religion, then presumably this would be permissible. The second significance of this case is that it offered the first two of what later became a three-prong test used to adjudicate Establishment clause cases. The first prong asks what is the primary purpose of the enactment?

Is it religious or secular? The second prong asks what is the primary effect of the enactment—religious or secular? In cases where the primary purpose and effect are secular the enactment is said to be permissible. This formula is particularly useful when determining whether curriculum, such as evolution or creationism, for example, is permitted.

Arkansas 1968 addressed the matter of an Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. The law was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that the primary purpose of the law was to advance and protect a religious view. Following the Epperson decision was the famous case Lemon v. It was famous mainly because of the establishment of the third prong used to adjudicate establishment clause cases.

At issue in this case was the question of whether public schools could reimburse private schools for the salaries of their teachers who taught secular subjects.

Since the majority of the private schools were parochial, the matter fell under establishment. In deciding that it was unconstitutional for the public schools to pay the salaries of the parochial school teachers, the court determined that while primary purpose and primary effect were central to deciding constitutionality, a third prong, which says that the enactment must not foster an excessive entanglement between religion and government was needed.

Paying the salaries of private school teachers who teach secular subjects may not serve a primarily religious purpose or have a primarily religious effect, but it certainly would foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion in that government would be very involved with accounting for their investments in a parochial school.

Contemporary Tensions Other important Establishment Clause cases related to education include Wallace v. Religion now being back in public schools across the us case dealt with the constitutionality of moments of silence. In this case, the state of Alabama allowed for a moment of silence for the purpose of meditation or private prayer. While moments of silence with no explicit purpose have been found constitutional, this law was found unconstitutional on the grounds that it had a clear religious purpose.

The court, in a 7-2 decision found the law unconstitutional according to all three prongs of the Lemon test. The courts have ruled similarly in more recent court cases such as Selman v. In summary, since the 1940s when the 14th amendment was applied to the 1st amendment, public schools have been limited in what counts as permissible in relation to religion and public schooling.

Bush, emphasize that restrictions on religious expression are limited to school personnel while in their official capacity. For example, under the Equal Access Act 1984student-initiated religious groups are permitted at schools.

However, teachers cannot create or lead these groups, though they are allowed to monitor them. Free Exercise It is worth mentioning briefly the role of the free exercise clause in public schools.

  • Should public schools refrain from a robust civic education in order to protect and allow religious ideologies to flourish?
  • The second significance of this case is that it offered the first two of what later became a three-prong test used to adjudicate Establishment clause cases;
  • In an increasingly diverse society, the ability to understand the perspectives of those from other faiths is vital for social cohesion and peace;
  • Further, because the prayer was broadcast at the start of the school day, students had no choice captive audience but to listen;
  • Further, unlike cultural identity, religion is oftentimes exclusive in its fundamental claims and assertions;
  • While these caricatures might fit some in each of these groups, contrary to the popular media depiction is, instead, a conflict built upon a reliance on different aspects of the first part of the First Amendment.

The chief function of the free exercise clause is to provide protection to religious minorities where laws created by the majority might serve unintentionally to restrict their free exercise. The most famous free exercise case related to public schools is, Wisconsin v. In this case, members of the Amish community requested an exemption from state compulsory attendance laws. Wisconsin law required all students to attend school until the age of 16. The Amish requested an exemption from the last two years of schooling what essentially would have amounted to the first two years of high school.