Should the Bible be taught in our public schools? Should our schools also teach students about the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Vedas and other sacred texts? When it comes to teaching public school students about religion, what is appropriate and what is not?
In our eagerness to separate Church and State, at times, some seem to go too far. There are those who would like to ban the teaching of religion at public schools. Some of them are well-intentioned: what if a teacher becomes a preacher in the classroom, and substitutes the podium for the pulpit? Not too many parents would be happy with that!
Another argument is that, if multiple faiths are taught, this might possibly appear to preference some religions over others (there is no question that not all faiths can be taught simultaneously). “How would a person of a minority faith feel when her own tradition is completely sidelined for the ‘major’ ones?” they reason.
On the other side of this spectrum, there are those who wish to ban religion from public schools because of their own hostility and aversion to religion in general. Many people view religion (and the existence of God) as myths that lack scientific evidence, and therefore feel insulted that their children must be exposed to such ‘fables’.
There is no question that some of these concerns are very real. Nonetheless, I believe that the need for teaching religion, and the benefits accrued through such a study, far outweighs any potential harm. Additionally, with some foresight and care, most of the potential pitfalls of teaching religion in public schools can be avoided. I would advocate the teaching of religion in public schools with two basic conditions: First, that multiple faith traditions be taught, and second, that the philosophy behind such an education is to create awareness and tolerance, and not to convert a child to a particular faith.
Whether one is religious or not, it is an undeniable fact that religion plays a very important role in the world today. Religious tendencies tend to shape social mores, political movements, and even economic change. Religious zeal is a power that leads many to do good, and others to inflict harm. Religion is an integral part of the world’s history, and even the founding of our own country is rooted in religious causes. For all of these reasons, our children need to be taught religion, just as they need to be taught history and political science. It is impossible to be well-educated in today’s world while being ignorant of religion. And by exposing our children to multiple faith traditions, we can help increase understanding and spread tolerance (traits that are very much needed in today’s world). As any reader of the religious traditions will tell you, a study of religions helps one appreciate the commonality of all faiths while realizing the uniqueness of one’s own.
In order to safeguard against abuse of religious teachings in school, guidelines can be developed to ensure that teachers teach, and not proselytize. Textbooks can be assigned that would reflect neutrality and impartiality. Other faith traditions that are not taught in detail can be mentioned, or assigned as class projects. If a parent feels strongly about not exposing his or her child to religious studies, while on a personal level I would try to talk the parent out of such an unhelpful attitude, I do believe that this is the parent’s right.
I am a Muslim, and, like all religious parents, I am eager to pass my faith down to my children. Yet, I also desire that my children study other faiths and appreciate the diversity of the world. Such an exposure will make them more informed citizens and more compassionate humans.