Web Site Gives Advice on Handling Religion in Public Schools

Proper and fair acknowledgment of religious belief in the classroom is a hot-button issue today. The comments of people weighing in on the subject often come in reaction to reports—often inaccurate—of incidents that appear to cross the line in advocating or restricting religious expression.

Administrators, teachers, parents, and school board members now have a web site they can turn to for guidelines about how to address religion in public schools. After President Clinton discussed the topic in a radio address in December 1999, the Education Department reissued on its web site a series of papers about religion and public schools.

This site, http://www.ed.gov/inits/religionandschools, provides extensive material on students’ religious rights. The site includes downloadable publications for teachers, parents, and mentors, and it also provides links to other related sites.

Meanwhile, the author notes that there has been substantial progress in the last few years toward creating a consensus about how religious activity and beliefs should be handled in schools. A statement issued in 1995 by 24 organizations of widely divergent interests (for example, the Christian Coalition, People for the American Way, and American Association of School Administrators) provides administrators and school board officials with a starting point for a reasoned discussion of the issue. The statement reads, in part, “Public schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect. Public schools uphold the First Amendment when they protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or none.”

This statement places schools in a “neutral” position on religion, the author says. “But neutrality does not mean ignoring religion,” he adds.

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