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Editorials

Separation of Church and State

Religion should not be taught in public schools

By The Crimson Staff

Although America boasts a melting pot of cultures and beliefs, recent data collected from a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center testing general knowledge of different religious beliefs indicate that Americans, regardless of their denomination, are frighteningly unknowledgeable about their neighbors’ religious beliefs. Some denominations are more uninformed than others, but the average American knows less about religion than common discourse presumes. Armed with these low numbers, select advocates of teaching religion in our nation’s public schools are pressing harder than ever to see their vision realized. However, giving states the ability to design their own religion curricula—when some schools are already attempting to insert creationism into science classes—would potentially lead to disastrous ends and should not be implemented.

The federal government has little control over exactly what and how teachers teach their students. State education boards that are currently attempting to limit the references to Islam in their schools’ textbooks simply cannot be trusted to aptly portray all religions in an objectively comparative and fair manner. The effect of affording states this ability would be a much greater disparity of understanding than already exists concerning a subject that incites strong emotional responses between individuals.

Even though Americans may not know a lot about other religions, previous surveys have shown that America is among the most religious of the world’s developed nations. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults say that religion is “very important” in their lives, and roughly 40 percent say they attend worship services at least once a week. On a local level, teachers that affiliate with a religion possess a personal identification with that faith. Because religion is likely an emotionally charged area of those teachers’ lives, it would not be equivalent to teaching another history, science, or math class. Instead, in many classrooms, there would be an inevitable personal bias inflicted on the subject by the teacher.

Although we do not believe that this poll means that religion should be taught in classrooms, it does indicate how many citizens could, and indeed should, benefit from learning about different faiths. This call needs to be answered by other forces in students’ environments: Religious organizations can inform their constituencies about other faiths in addition to their own, and there could be a nationally acknowledged day in which Americans meditate on the vast pluralism of this country’s beliefs.

It would simply be unreasonable for a secular country that places an emphasis on the separation of church and state to require religion to be taught in its classrooms. There does, however, need to be a reevaluation of how and where American youth obtain religious knowledge—but in a way that will spread intercultural understanding, not further bigotry and misinformation. That specific influence over tomorrow’s America cannot be given to those who would breed any more ignorance than already persists.

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