Lately I've been seeing and hearing more and more people complaining society's going to hell because we've taken God (more specifically the Christian version of God) out of our public schools. This is one of those issues that conservative pundits tend to pull out when they're run dry of other fodder for whipping their mindless masses into a frenzy.
Even more than usual, this is a controversy almost completely based on distortion and ignorance. These seem to be the three main points:
1. Students aren't allowed to pray in public schools. I'm not a terribly religious person, but it's my understanding that one may pray wherever, however he or she wishes. Nobody's stopping kids from praying. In fact, when I pulled up to school the other day, a group of them (and one teacher) were in a prayer circle around the flagpole. There's a group that meets weekly called "Lunch with Jesus." It's a school-sanctioned club. It's in the bulletin and announced over the loudspeaker.
What we don't do is have a mandated prayer time. That's not the role of public school. The government should not promote any sort of religious beliefs, nor should it restrain individuals from practicing them. I find it ironic that most of the people clamoring for prayer in schools are those same type of flag-waving teabaggers who consider themselves America's greatest patriots. Yet they'd have no problem ignoring one of the core tenets that made America so unique and successful because they feel that we're better off being "a Christian nation." If you want a theocracy, go live in Saudi Arabia. What? That's not the religion you practice, so you object to the government forcing it down your throat? Hmmmmmm.
2. Teachers aren't even allowed to talk about religion. This would come as a huge surprise to my juniors, who've had to listen to plenty of talk about Puritan beliefs, including a 15-minute mini summary of the book of Genesis, the rest of the Old Testament, Jesus' crucifixion, and how it affected the way the earliest European settlers behaved. In The Crucible, the Ten Commandments are part of the plot. I don't insist we skip that part or anything.
Teachers are free to mention religion whenever it's relevant to the curriculum, which, in English class, is frequently. What we're not supposed to do is promote it, or on the flip side, denigrate it. If you took a poll of all of my former students, I'd be very surprised (and disappointed) if any of them said that I disparaged their beliefs in any way in a classroom setting.
3. Speaking of the Ten Commandments, that's the other thing the school prayer folk always bring up. Private businesses and citizens can post them all they want. Again, government buildings cannot be seen as promoting any religion's tenets over any other. Forget for an instant that the majority of the Ten Commandments aren't even laws (that's a topic for a whole different blog), but how would these folks feel if the Koran were displayed under glass at every courthouse? I'm guessing they wouldn't be as high on "religious freedom" then.