Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Iowa Public School Worries About a Class on Religion

Spencer, Iowa schhols thought they had a good idea. Because they know many teachers are afraid to touch on anything remotely religious, even in an academic treatment, they decided to publish a policy on religion courses. But there are objections from some residents about the first plan submitted, and of course the Wisconsin-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State also became an interested party. So they are going back to the drawing board and trying again.

Looking at some of the comments from the Des Moines Register, readers raise some good points about the general issue of teaching religion in school. After all, even some religious parents may not want the teachers bringing up points that could cause confusion in the students. (Of course, that does not seem to stop schools from teaching about homosexuality or a few other subjects that parents fear will confuse the children. But that's another discussion.)

As usual, the so-called "separation of church and state" come into the argument. This metaphor is thought by many to summarize the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But the applicable phrase from that document is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." Note the boldface I added to two words: "Congress" and "law." The prohibition limits the actions of Congress to make a law.

The 14th Amendment is sometimes thought to bring this same prohibition to the state governments. Even if that is true, a school board's creating a class on religion is hardly the same as making a state law. To me, this is not a Constitutional issue.

My saying that does not mean I don't think there are reasons for parents to be concerned about what is going to be taught. Parents should certainly be involved and interact with the school board about this. But it should not be done via court edict based on the First Amendment - that is a non sequitur.

Yet because Thomas Jefferson used "separation of church and state" to explain one aspect of the First Amendment, the phrase has been used a lot to do many things Jefferson did not intend. When Jefferson was president of the Washington, D.C. public school system he approved the use of the Holy Bible and the Watts Hymnal as the primary sources of reading in the public schools.

I would hope that issues like this could stay out of the courts and be settled at a local level, which is a concept the Founders would very much agree with.

Read the story here:
Spencer schools drop new Bible class

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