Neutral Schooling

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Religiously Neutral Public Schooling

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Responsibilities of Educators

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Teaching about Religion and Nonreligion

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Nonreligion in School Culture and Curriculum

Responsibilities of Educators

Public schools model the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty to the citizenry.  Educators in public schools have an obligation to the youngsters who attend (and their families) to guard the freedom of conscience rights of each and every student. The obligation applies to teachers of any faith, or none. The guarantee is for children of any faith, or none.  

A child's worldview beliefs (religious or nonreligious) remain the prerogative of the family that entrusts the education of the child to the public school.  So, to live up the promise of neutrality (religious liberty for all the students), public school educators put on their "establishment clause hat" when they begin the school day and wear it until their school responsibilities are completed.

Carrying through on the neutrality mandate means that public schools:

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may not inculcate religious belief in youngsters

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may not inculcate nonreligious belief in youngsters

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may not inhibit religious belief

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may not inhibit nonreligious belief

Whereas the teaching and promulgation of a particular faith system is accepted as appropriate when children are entrusted to educational institutions founded and funded solely by individual religious organizations, public schooling is different.  

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It is both inappropriate and illegal for any public school or any public school teacher to promote religion in general or to teach or to endorse in any way the concepts or dogmas associated with any specific religion or belief system. 

 The "neutrality stipulation" does not mean, however, that public schools cannot teach about religion.  Nor does it prohibit their teaching about nonreligion, either. 

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Teaching about Religion and Nonreligion

Impartiality is an academic imperative for teaching about religion or nonreligion in public schools.  It encompasses recognition of the rights of people living in a free society to choose between the various faith systems as well as their right to reject any one or all of such faith systems. 

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It is proper and it is legal to teach about religion objectively as part of a public school program in courses where such teaching is authorized by the state educational system and while avoiding the practice of or instruction in religion.

The web site Teaching about Religion with a View to Diversity: Worldview Education provides an overview, teacher guidelines, and resource materials focusing on academic objectivity in teaching about religion and nonreligion.

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Nonreligion in School Culture and Curriculum

It is important for those responsible for and involved in public education to be fully cognizant of the broad spectrum of religious and nonreligious perspectives that may be present in any American classroom, and to ensure that each childís freedom of conscience is duly valued. No childís beliefs may be favored over anotherís. Nor may any childís religious belief or absence of belief be disparaged. All students are deserving of commensurate regard whether they hold to a familiar religion, to an unfamiliar or minority one, or reject religion entirely. Each budding citizen has a freedom of conscience and belief deserving of respect.

For a teacher to honor each studentís equal right to freedom of conscience is not the same as validating the truthfulness of their outlooks or endowing the different views with equivalent cultural legitimacy. Rather, it is modeling for the students the governmental principle that each citizen possesses religious liberty.

It is significant to note that over twenty percent of the human race today either has remained free from or decided not to embrace religion.5 There is considerable historical evidence that such individuals have long been players in the human story, and so an objective rendering of prior times obliges educators to acknowledge these persons. That is to say, a fair mandate for teaching about religions needs also to include teaching about the beliefs of those who reject a religion or religions.

Teaching about religion in an impartial manner necessitates acknowledging the legitimacy of lives lived according to varying belief systems. A fair and just curriculum gives recognition to the lives committed to a nonreligious way of life as well as to a religious one.

To teach only about religious belief systems and not teach that many individuals discard and/or disregard religion is prejudicial to academic integrity. Teaching about freethinking as it has come into play in history and as it exists today is part and parcel of the "teaching about religion" ballgame.

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Instructional Systems, Fort Sutter Station P.O. 163418, Sacramento, CA 95816

Email: OABITAR@aol.com

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Last Updated 5/15/2005

Supported by OABITAR (Objectivity, Accuracy, and Balance In Teaching About Religion)
    a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization