Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to practice one's own religion without discrimination or retribution for doing so. Yet at the same time, when the question of opening each school day with a prayer is proposed it is met with public outrage. Religion has all but been taken out of America and the results can be seen everywhere you look. The media is filled with teenagers stealing, doing drugs, and committing violent acts. Many see it as a sign of the downfall of the society. They watch as it happens around them and yet stand around and blame others for the problems.
Religion gives us a higher sense of purpose in our lives. We are all a part of a larger whole. We are part of a family, a community, a country and a larger universe. As such, people tend to view their acts and activities during the day as a part of a larger whole. We are all born and live a finite lifetime, after which we die and go on to something large and mysterious. It is the connection to the past, present, and future that gives us our sense of morals. When we have a sense of our place in the scheme of things, we act in ways that are for the benefit of all, not just for our own interests. This is the benefit that religion has for the community. Those who practice religion are less likely to act in harmful ways because it is not beneficial to society as a whole.
The role of public schools is to educate our youth. When our country was young, prayer and Bible teachings were a standard part of the curriculum. Students leaned reading, writing and arithmetic, in addition, the school had a role of instilling values that would make the student good members of the community and a valuable part of society. Now things have changed and we are a country made of a much more diverse population. There are many groups who feel that they are being persecuted if they are made to assume a certain religion in school. This brings the role of the school and its social purpose into question. The fundamental question is whether schools should teach morals and attempt to make children into good, upstanding citizens, or should they just teach the academics and leave the social values to the parents and religious organizations.
The rise in crime, and particularly youth crime supports the idea that leaving the moral teachings to the parents or religious organizations is simply not working. In order to stop this trend and re-gain America's strength schools must not only instill their sense self-worth but must do their part to instill their sense of being a larger part of a whole. The only way to do this is to allow religion to be taught in schools. The following research will examine the history of the issue, give an overview of current policy, and examine both sides of the issue. The thesis will show that religion in school has many more benefits than it does harmful effects and that if we are to stop the current trend of youth crime and violence, we must allow religion to become a part of the school curriculum.
History of Policy
In 1925 the Scopes "Monkey trial" emphasized the point of teaching religion in schools. In this case, a Tennessee teacher was charged with breaking the law for discussing the theory of evolution in the public school system (Coeyman, 2000). We must remember that Darwin's book on evolution was published earlier, but was basically dismissed as not based on fact by the general public. It was not until the 1920s that the public began examining it in earnest and exploring it as a possibility.
In the 1960s the Supreme Court declared prayer in public schools unconstitutional. This led to a series of overreactions by some schools, banning religion altogether from the curriculum. Many teachers were reluctant to tell students that the Pilgrims came here to escape religious persecution. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton stepped into the issue. He issued the following statement in a speech at the White House,
Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the school house door. " President Clinton, July 12, 1995,
In 1995, the U.S. Department of Education issued a series of Guidelines for creating a more friendly atmosphere for acknowledging various religious views (USDOE, 1995).
Present policy on religion in public schools is so unclear that most persons in public school administration cannot discern what they are legally allowed and not allowed to do. The constitution permits religious activity both in and around public schools. However, some interpret recent Supreme Court rulings to mean that schools have been declared "Religion free zones" (ACLU, 1995).
Benefits of Religion in Schools
Religion and education have existed hand in hand since the beginning of time. For many thousands of years the religious orders of society were the only ones with higher education. In this way religion has allowed the advancement of society. In many other countries around the world, religion is still an integral part of education. In England over 25% of all schools are ran and funded by the Church of England and the Catholic Church (Baker, 2001). In Japan, students say Buddhist prayers before a snack. In Muslim religion faith and school have been inseparable. In most European countries where religion is a part of the school day, there are less internal conflicts than in countries with more religious freedom (Coeyman, 2000). Greater diversification has led to the conflict over religion in schools. In areas where religion in schools is practiced successfully, there is one primary culture and any others are too small in number be recognized. However in the United States, we have an entirely different situation. We are made up of many culturally diverse groups, many of whom are nearly equal in number. There is no dominant culture whose ideas have precedence over the others. Only in this country and a few others such as England, France and Germany do other cultures exist in strong enough number to make a difference (Coeyman, 2000). This cultural diversity makes it nearly impossible to have a "state religion." However, just because we cannot have an official state religion, does that mean that we should have no religion. In a sense this type of thinking bans religion of any kind altogether.
Countries that practice religion in school such as in Muslim country's and Japan have fewer internal conflicts than countries that accept a wider variety of religions. Religion has been the cause of many wars. But it has also been a unifying element of many successful historical movements that have helped mankind to advance and prosper. Unity and a sense of belonging motivate individuals to act in a way that will make them acceptable to the group. Japanese society has always been viewed as structured and unified. One reason for this is that they are taught the discipline and moral standards contained within the Buddhist religion. They do not see themselves as individuals, but as a part of a larger group. They do not wish to act in a way that brings themselves, their family, or their country shame. Therefore they do not engage in activities that would do so. Religion adds structure to an otherwise chaotic life. The structure in an individual's life is necessary if we are to have a structured society and world.
Alternative To Offering Religion In Schools
If religion cannot be included as a part of the school curriculum, then some other alternative needs to be devised to promote a sense of belonging to something larger than one's self. If this is not possible, then it will be impossible to maintain a civilized and advanced society in the future. Perhaps instead of using religion as a unifying tool, we could use our sense of belonging as a nation to unify us into a cause and help maintain order.
Placing more law enforcement in schools and passing more laws will not cure society's ills. People will always, and have always found a way to get around these laws. In order to restore morals and integrity to America, the change must come from within. People must find it in themselves to uphold high moral standards. It cannot be forced upon them. If religion cannot be taught in schools, then some way must be devised to encourage self-exploration and examine the issues of right and…