Limiting Free Speech (14): Religious Education in Public Schools

There can be nothing wrong with educating children about religion. And I say this as an agnostic. But religious education must include information about all the world’s main religions, and about atheism as well. And it also shouldn’t avoid mentioning some of the problems caused by religion. Children benefit from seeing all sides of the coin.

Even public schools, i.e. schools instituted, organized and funded by the government, should provide this kind of religious education. Banning religion from public schools is wrong, but not because it would be a limitation on the freedom of speech of religions, as some religious activists claim. It’s not because you’re not allowed to speak in a certain place that you’re not allowed to speak (freedom of speech does not include the right to say anything anywhere; if it would, then newspapers would be forced to print everything everyone asks them to print). Such a ban is wrong for another reason: it would be stupid and a disservice to children.

It would be politically and legally wrong to have public schools teach only one religion, or emphasize one religion. The separation of church and state does not allow agencies of the state – such as public schools – to be hijacked by a particular religion, even if it is the religion of the majority of citizens (I would even say, especially when it is).

If this were allowed, then a religion could then use its privileged position to compete unfairly with other religions, and the result would be the abolition of religious freedom. The choice of religion would then no longer be a free one. Children would be led to one religion. Rather than complete information on all religious options, necessary to make an educated choice between religions, children would have a one-sided view on religion.

For the benefit of their students, private schools are of course also advised to teach all religions. But since many of these private schools are religious schools, it is only fair to allow them to focus on their own religion. It would indeed be an unjustified encroachment on religious freedom if religions and churches were not allowed to organize their own system of education according to their own rules (even if it includes teaching that Darwin was wrong and that Dinosaurs and men walked the surface of the earth together – but evidently they wouldn’t do their pupils any favors).

As long as parents have a choice to send their children to such a religious school or to another, public school, then there is no problem. But this must be a real choice of course. If the public schools are of inferior quality, or difficult to reach, then there isn’t really a choice.

School prayer is quite another matter. Praying is not learning, and the demand of inclusiveness mentioned above does not appear to work in the case of prayer. Starting lessons with different prayers of different religions seems awkward. Hence, school prayer in public schools looks like the kind of hijack that is contrary to the separation of state and church.

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9 thoughts on “Limiting Free Speech (14): Religious Education in Public Schools

  1. I do think that education is tied up with religion also just as the cartoon stated… Its wonderful that you came up with idea’s like this because people very rarely speak their mind about it and I have to deal with it in school as well. These cartoons should make it ore interesing because its telling the truth when someone wants to read them.

  2. This is very cool, and helpful. I agree with everything you are saying, and I add to it as well. I am doing a senior project on this matter that will allow me to graduate high school and I think that this should be presented at my class on presentation day. Good work.

  3. I disagree with school prayer. But I also disagree with inclusiveness or forcing people to “teach about other religions.” Teach kids to treat people with respect universally and everything else will fall into place. “Tolerance” does not have to mean “agreement” or “understanding,” it simply means that you treat others as you would want them to treat you, no matter who or what they are. Leave teaching religion to the parents.

  4. I stumbled across this site while researching ‘the teaching of human evolution in public schools, everything has been very helpful. I would like to use the ma and pop’s cartoon for my essay , as I feel this represents the feeling of many American on the teaching of evolution.

  5. Well In my opinion Religion Is a tool to divide people rather than bring them together. You have to be careful about what is said by man because it is contrary to the spirit of God. God Speaks to every body in a different way. As soon as you you think you understand God he changes how he works in us. In other words he is an illusive God. For the reason being we don’t get too much spiritual pride and think we are better than other people because were are not. If any body is trying to find schools about Religious Education. You may consider going online. Here is a cool site I found search the web. Online Religious Education

  6. It seems many of us leaving comments here are doing essays or school projects. I am a college student working on a group research project. We chose the topic “prayer in school.” It is a touchy subject and great for making arguments. I really enjoy reading everyone’s comments and gaining insight as to what people think of prayer in school. I have to remain on the fence for he time being, though I don’t necessarily agree with prayer in school, I have taken on the challenge to find the good in prayer in school. I’m not religious, more spiritual if anything, and try to keep an open mind.

    1. That is a good point you are bringing up about what the relevancy of Prayer in school is. Prayer is a personal thing that people do through out the whole day, when they face certain situations that require a little faith. I.E. please God help me with my speech today.” or “God thank you for this food.” You don’t have to pray out loud and gather everybody in one place at a certain time. So in my opinion we don’t need a designated time to pray in school, people will pray when they see fit to. You can lead a horse to water but can you make him drink. But unfortunately it is not that easy now a day to reason with people about what is right and wrong. So If anybody feels like they just cant handle the way public schools are teaching there kids you can find tons of information about at this web site. If Prayer offends you go to a different school. And if you think prayer is necessary for your children teach them how to do it and the benefits that come from prayer. I am about to have my first child and I am now faced to think about this topic a lot more than I would like to. Hope this helps

  7. Religion is just a word that everyone construes with. The plain truth is that when you have a relationship with a higher power, people get scared and want to defend themselves from something that is absoulutley perfect. I really don’t care if its allowed in school to pray or if its not. I am going to pray simply because he is worthy of my prayers and prasies daily and momentarily. Weither it causes a commotion or not its not for the people around me so why get so offened about a prayer that has nothing to do with you. A prayer is not forcing someone to belive in what you belive. And in the end those people don’t support you, don’t help you, don’t love you, and probably don’t even know you so what does it matter. You don’t see the people who do pray get so offened becauase you don’t. All we can do is have them in our prayers and hope that God would open thier hearts, to understand. Same with teaching, being taught is not forcing you to belive anything, just like if your told a story about the boogie man, ” why dont they say oh were being forced to belive in the boogie man because he said.” People come on. I mean is it really that horriable for some one to express themselves.

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