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Where's religion in schools?

 

How many times have you heard, “Where is religion in schools?” or “God has a place in the education system?” If you’re even somewhat interested in politics, especially Mississippi politics, you know the religion-in-school debate makes an appearance quite often.

I tend to align myself with the Democratic Party, which mostly believes in total separation of church and state. However, I believe that religion should be taught in schools. Instead of asking, “Where is God in schools?” I ask “Where is Allah, the Buddha, Dalai Lama, Vishnu and other important religious figures and deities?” A world religions class should be taught in the public schools of Mississippi. Not only would students learn about different cultures around the world, they would develop highly important critical thinking skills — skills that students often lack when they graduate from high school.

Furthermore, a world religions class would allow students to ask questions about their own life and their own culture and faith. A class like this would lead students to seriously consider decisions in their lives, instead of simply following the status quo. A world religion/philosophy class asks thought-provoking questions that are often missing in Mississippi public schools.  

Critics of a world religions class argue that the teacher is biased and students come out of the class favoring the teacher’s religion. While it is true that the teacher is biased, I can say from firsthand experience that students don’t always favor the teacher’s religion. I’ve taken multiple religion classes in high school and in college. Going to a Catholic high school, I’ve studied Catholicism as well as other religions. Furthermore, in college, I’ve taken the introductory religious studies class and a class on Buddhism. In all of these classes, my teachers have been public, open Christians or Buddhist. And in all cases, the teacher has given a fair assessment of religion. Even though I am a Christian and I am grounded in my faith, it is still highly important that I study other religions and philosophies; furthermore, these classes have not converted me to another religion or even attempted to do so — they have been purely academic studies. 

Teaching religion in schools is not the only issue; people often want prayer in schools or the Ten Commandments posted on buildings. I say, sure, post the Ten Commandments at your school, but you should also be able to post Buddhist sutras, Hindu texts, even a selection of the Jewish Torah or the Islamic Quran. Every religion and its sacred texts have an important lesson to teach us, and many hold similar viewpoints and lessons. If we want to teach our children a moral code, why does it have to come from Christian texts? If we only want to teach them a moral code to live by, other religions offer texts that can complement this view. All religions should be given a fair chance and equal opportunity. Separation of church and state means there is no single, government-sponsored religion. However, our society tends to be religious and moral. So if we want to include religion in the public arena, such as the public education system, we should be willing to include and be open to all religions. Every person should feel comfortable sharing his or her religious view or philosophy; the public and the government should not intimidate a citizen/student or force his or her religion upon others because he or she is in the majority. 

Knowing as much as possible about other cultures and religions is a value of which I feel the public has lost sight. We’ve become so wrapped up in our own Christianity and its major dominance that we forget other cultures and religions are all around us. We forget that people around us may not hold our views. Also, I think many people feel they cannot stay true to their faith and still study and see the significance of other religions. 

As a nation and a state, we must move past this view and realize the significance of other religions and cultures and the importance of studying other religions and philosophies. We must realize that while we cannot have one government-sponsored religion, all religions and philosophies should be open to interpretation and criticism. All religions and philosophies should be studied in the public education system. All religions and philosophies should hold a place and feel comfortable in our society.

 

Adam Blackwell is a sophomore public policy leadership major from Natchez. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBlackwell1.