Schools should teach, not preach, religion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2008

Articles will periodically appear in this newspaper and others about someone wanting to display the Ten Commandments at a public institution like a courthouse or a school.

Proponents will argue that the country was founded on Christian beliefs and that the Ten Commandments represent the ideals of American government. Opponents argue there is no place for such displays on public property because they fly in the face of the separation of church and state.

You can’t have religion in schools, that’s what has been ingrained into the public’s collective consciousness. But there is an important distinction that should be made.

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Most educators understand that there is a difference between having Christianity forced on students and educating students about the religions of the world. There is a valid question that should be posed to educators and lawmakers. Is the American system of education, which is so heavily predicated on proficiency testing and has recently had a more profound emphasis on mathematics and science, failing in its duty to educate young people in the area of religion?

Not to be misunderstood, many schools teach religion. But the question is how much of it occurs and how effectively is it being taught across the board?

A lot is asked of educators in America. Taxpayers expect schools to use their money effectively, to give students the fundamentals necessary to succeed, to prepare them for college or trade schools and, often, there are simply more expectations than resources necessary to fulfill them.

The notion of religion being absent from schools is largely false. Some schools have student-driven prayer groups and other bodies like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes offer students an avenue to God on their terms.

The separation of church and state simply means educators cannot preach to students. They cannot in any way administer religious doctrine in publicly funded schools. One way to quickly discourage such practices to those who support them is to ask them which Christian faith should be administered.

Whenever someone argues that “schools have gone downhill ever since they took God out of them,” there is an expectation that Christianity should be taught their way. But with such diverse beliefs inside Christianity, it wouldn’t take long for trouble to arise.

There would be more than a little uproar the first day a school would be allowed to “bring God back to schools,” with a teacher who would announce: “Now everybody get your rattlesnake!”

Religion is a personal matter that has no place in schools. That is for the home and for the church. It doesn’t mean lawmakers and educators are anti-God by any means, it just means that is not a role educators should play.

However, there should not be a reluctance to educate young people about the ways of the world. Everyone should agree students should have a thorough grasp of the various religions around the world because that knowledge leads to tolerance and understanding. And, really, shouldn’t that be a staple of one’s education?

Rick Greene is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12, or by e-mail at