Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1999 08:45:59 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Religion and the Public Schools

There has been a lot of vigorous public discussion recently over religion and education centering around such general matters as prayer in school and recently focusing on the specific issue of the teaching of Creationism versus Evolution in Kansas and the Georgia State Board of Education's consideration of introducing a Bible course with Christian fundamentalist overtones into the public school curriculum. As an educator, I'd like to offer my quick take on this issue of religion and public education.

I may not be religious in a strict ritualistic or ceremonial or attendance at synagogue sense. But, I personally struggle to live the moral and ethical principles of my faith every day, not just at Temple Israel, but wherever I am, including at the university. Part of my strong faith that I practice is a belief that every person is a sacred creation. Another part of my faith is that I stand puny before the Lord. So puny am I that I just do not have such herculean strength with which I can cast out the Almighty from the public schools or any person's heart as if the Divine were a mere mortal money changer. On the other hand, I do not see in any Scripture any close-minded Divine commandments that say, "Thou shalt force all others to read the Bible that thou dost" and "Thou shalt have organized prayer in the public schools for every function," or "Go among the multitude in the schools and force them to believe the Bible as thou dost." And, I am okay with that.

I feel very comfortable daily practicing the principles of my faith. I don't remember anyone ever telling me that I shouldn't or can't be honest, that I must steal and covet and dishonor, that I can't have faith and hope, that I can't be charitable, that I can't use the golden rule as a standard of living. I am comfortable with any student who wants to practice the morals and ethics of his or her faith, to say a quiet prayer before school, say a silent prayer during school before a test, say a little grace over lunch, read a Bible story, have a discussion about theology, or do a project involving the role religion plays in the American experience.

I am a professional educator. I do not think that any stone should be left unturned as we struggle to find something, anything, to turn a student on to learning. I do not believe in dousing the flame of a student's interest in anything: Moses, horses, Bible, clothes, Koran, cars, race, Buddha, sports, religion, science, sex, Allah, hunting, Confuscius, drugs, fishing, Siva, the opposite gender, Jesus, anything that encourages a student to read, search, inquire, discuss, discover, write, think, listen, understand, reflect, respect, express. What kind of a teacher would I be if I squandered such opportunities and squashed such excitement.

I have no problem with teachers including religious history, religious music, religious art, religious literature, religious drama, religious philosophy, and even theology in appropriate classes (that doesn't mean I believe that Christian Creationism has any appropriate place in biology classes. It doesn't)---as long as no one faith or no one sect of a faith is presented as the one and only true "church."

Like it or not, believe in it or not, religion has played a significant role in political, social, cultural, scientific, and economic lives world over. It is the cornerstone of our American individual and national character. It's in our colonial beginnings, our revolution, our founding documents, our great reform movements, even in the reason we are told to eat our corn flakes. Without it where be would our and the world's literature, art, architecture, music, dance? World over, more good and more harm have been done to people by people, more people have been united and divided, more people have been hated and more have been loved, more people have built and more people have torn down, more has been created and more has been destroyed, more has been elevated and more has been perverted in the name of religion than in the name of anything else. To leave out the role any religion has played and still plays in any individual, local, national and global life would leave a very "holely" story.

I also have no problem with any and all religious clubs being welcomed at any school and having volunteer faculty sponsors, as long as they are not officially sponsored by the school or any public funds are used in their support. It is an unacceptable extreme position to say that just by merely providing space and the insignificant cost of utilities that the school is supporting and promoting such gatherings. These clubs offer needed sense of community, places for making contact, ways of reaching out and connecting for students no less than do sport teams, academic clubs, theatrical productions, sororities, and fraternities.

I have yet to see a legislator's law, a judge's decision, or some bureaucrat's regulation discourage religious belief, prohibit practices of moral and ethical principles, stop the wearing of any religious professing shirt, forbid individual prayer, bar the personal carrying and reading of any religious work. If you think it does, you're not paying attention. You're reading and hearing only what you want to read and hear or are told to read and hear, and you're are being taken for a contribution ride courtesy of the cottage industry in this country that profits from the fiction that God has been banned from the schools, that all religion has been blacklisted in our schools, that children are murdering children and this great country is in moral decline, all because of a lack of practicing the rituals and ceremonies of a particular religious faith in the public schools.

Maybe the situation would be much improved if we each practice religious inclusion rather than exclusion, just follow the ethical and moral principles of each of our faiths regarding human relations without worrying about particular rituals and ceremonies or celebrations of particular holidays, be more respectful (I don't like the word, toleration), be trusting of others, and be far, far, far less self-righteous and arrogant. I bet we would find that we would have far more in common than supposed and agree more often than not, and feel a presence that has gone unnoticed.

Make it a good day. 


Louis Schmier           
Department of History    
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                        /~\    /\ /\
912-333-5947                       /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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