Some public school teachers fear to mention anything to do with religion in the classroom. Some schools and districts even forbid celebrating holidays associated with one religion. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid a subject rather than deal with questions and criticism from parents or administrations. Avoidance can be extremely difficult during religious holidays and deprives children of forming a comprehensive understanding of diversity and culture. It is important to teach about religion in your classroom, and it’s not impossible to teach it in an appropriate way that follows federal law.
Teachers fear that even mentioning religion would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of First Amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Teachers in their official capacity are agents of the government because they represent the school and school board. Teachers are also private citizens and have rights to free speech and free exercise under the Constitution; however, these rights are limited when acting in an official teaching or another government role.
Even though public school teachers are prohibited from teaching religion, they are free to teach about religion. Consider the difference between preaching or promoting a religion and teaching about different cultures and religions or about different religious holidays.
It is very important to teach about religions in your classroom. Religion is a large part of many cultures. Teaching about how others view the world differently helps our students become tolerant and accepting of other’s differences.
It is also important to teach how not all people associate with a religion. This is ok. Being atheist or agnostic does not make a person any less moral than a religious person.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when teaching about religion.
Teach about a variety of religions
Only teach about one religion
Teach the value of diversity
Promote one religion over another
Teach nonreligion as a valid belief
Promote religion over nonreligion
Treat all religions as equal
Share your religious views
Practice religious acts such as prayer
It is against federal law to share your own religious beliefs. Even though your religion may be a large part of who you are, children are impressionable. Teaching about your religious beliefs could be seen as promoting one religion.
Often, the laws regarding separation of church and state are not followed in schools. Administrators and teachers think it is ok to have a moment for prayer or observe one religious holiday because the majority are the same religion. While some people may not be bothered by small references and promotions of religion, it still sends a message of “otherness.” Those in the minority feel this message.
Whether it be during the holidays or any time of year, ensure that you ARE teaching your kids about culture, which religion can be a large part of. But, do not teach about one religion exclusively. Use your lessons to send a message of diversity and inclusivity.