Religion in the Public Schools

Religious Public Schools

The place that Americans of different backgrounds and religions are taught about the essential principles of freedom and tolerance are public schools. Currently, with the diverse growth of the population in the country, these values are prominent and in today’s polarized society, these values are more important than ever before. The public schools must make students from every background feel equally welcome if democracy is to endure. Students from minority religions are particularly vulnerable.  Jewish and Muslim children are either forced to participate in or have to remove themselves from Christian-oriented activities. Besides, Christian students may end up indulging in their own manner of worship dictated by schoolteachers and bureaucrats. Neither result is good for religious or personal freedom.

The ongoing current danger arises from the separation of church and state is in the public this would threaten students from religious minorities and compromise the religious expression of all students who practice different religions. Public school students are at an age when they are very vulnerable and even the courts have long recognized how carefully they must be protected from peer and official burdens. The courts understand that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause means students should not think that any one faith is officially sanctioned or preferred. In addition to its discriminatory effect on religious minorities, organized school prayer tells students of all faiths that religion is a legitimate function of the state.

This is not what the American concept regarding religious freedom is about. The authors of the Constitution exclusively rejected all wording that would have given governments the authority for funding or aid for religious institutions or promote anyone religion in schools. The argument over prayers in public schools is one of the longest-running disputes which have continued for almost 40 years.  Courts have repeatedly and firmly found school-sponsored prayer violates the American Constitution but its advocates just as repeatedly try to re-establish it. This does not mean, of course, that students have to leave their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door. The illusion of the “Godless classroom” is just that: an illusion.

Voluntary religious practices and ceremonies in public schools are not considered to be illegal, although prayer and other religious activity led or organized by school officials and teachers is not allowed, the law provided adequate room for religious expression by student, as long as there is no disruption of normal school activity, individual students are free to engage in prayer whenever and wherever they like. Religious clubs that are initiated and led by students may have as much access to school facilities as do all other student clubs. Students even have the right, within limits, to distribute religious material on school grounds provided it does not cause problems within the school.

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