Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vermont School Board - Religion in Education, Taboo Subject?

It seems that in Benson, Vermont, the school board has been struggling to work on a policy concerning religion in public schools. It seems that some students' artwork was posted around the Christmas season, but later removed by school officials because of religious themes. The board is working hard to find a policy that will hold up to scrutiny.

One sticking point is that they do not want to appear to be celebrating Christmas (or other similar holidays). Do you suppose they intend to hold class during the national Christmas holiday? Will there be class on Dec. 25th when that date falls on a weekday? I rather doubt it. So their position must be that they will observe the day off that the Federal Government celebrates, but they will not acknowledge its meaning.

Actually, I see nothing in the Constitution or First Amendment that would prevent them from holding class on the 25th, as long as they allowed students to not attend. One could assume that most students would not be there, and they might decide to not hold classes for that very reason alone.

But there IS a problem when a school administration censors student projects for reason of religious content. The content is not an establishment of religion by the national, state, or local government. Short of that infraction (and the "state" and "local" part of that argument is questionable), it should be protected as both free speech and freedom of religious expression.

In a previous post I pointed out that the U.S. Department of Education lists various activities that are allowed in public school:

“Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school. Thus, if a teacher’s assignment involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards (such as literary quality) and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.”

That's very plain English, isn't it?

Learn more here.

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