Assignment: The Practice of Religion in Public Schools

As a general rule Public schools are not permitted to carry out religious studies although teaching about religion in a secular context is not forbidden.  The Bible may be taught in a school, but only for its historical, cultural or literary value and never in a devotional, celebratory or doctrinal manner, or in such a way that encourages acceptance of the Bible as a religious document. “Teaching religion” amounts to religious indoctrination and practice and is clearly prohibited in public schools. A program intended to teach religion, disguised as teaching about religion, will is considered as a violation of the constitution.  In essence, there is an important difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion. Students must not be encouraged to accept or conform to specific religious beliefs or practices as part of their education.

Religion can be taught in school as part of a secular educational program. Classes that teach about religion” are created toward teaching students about the role of religion in the historical, cultural, literary and social development of the United States and other nations. These programs should promote sympathy and consideration, tolerance and respect for a pluralistic society. If discussing religion in any framework, the discussion must take place in a neutral, objective, balanced and factual manner. Such programs should educate students about the principle of religious liberty as one of the fundamental elements of freedom and democracy in the United States.

Teachers must be extremely sensitive to respect, and not interfere with, a student’s religious beliefs and practices. No teacher should either promote or degrade any religion.

While it is constitutionally permissible for public schools to teach about religion, it is unconstitutional for public schools and their employees to observe religious holidays, promote religious belief, or practice religion. School officials and parents must be extremely careful not to cross the line between “the laudable educational goal of promoting a student’s knowledge of and appreciation for this nation’s cultural and religious diversity, and the impermissible endorsement of religion forbidden by the Establishment Clause.” A public school curriculum cannot be devotional or doctrinal. Nor may it have the effect of promoting or inhibiting religion. A teacher must not promote or denigrate any particular religion, religion in general, or lack of religious belief.

A teacher must not interject personal views or advocate those of certain students at any time.
Schools can and should teach secular values such as honesty, respect for others, courage, kindness and being good citizens. These values, however, must not be taught as religious doctrine. The fact that most religions also teach these values does not change the lawfulness and desirability of teaching them. It is also appropriate for school officials to instill in students such values as “independent thought, tolerance of diverse views, self-respect, maturity, self-reliance and logical decision-making.

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