Religion in Public Schools vs. Godless Education:
One of the preeminent battlegrounds for the Christian Right’s war on modernity is America’s secular public school system. The Christian Right cannot stand the fact that instead of infusing the entire curriculum with their brand of conservative Christian principles, the government maintains a neutral stance on religion with a secular system. The godlessness of America’s public schools is an advantage, not a defect. Public schools should be secular, not extensions of religious institutions.
In secular public schools, history is taught from a godless perspective. Events in history are not “explained” as miracles or interventions of gods. The course of history is not described as the expression of divine will and leading to the culmination of any divine plans. Instead, events in history are described as the actions of humans; the course of history is described as the outgrowth of human actions and human institutions. Human history is a human affair, godless and naturalistic.
Modern science has done more than any other aspect of modernity to undermine traditional religious beliefs about the nature of the universe. Science need not conflict with religion, but it does conflict with many traditional religious doctrines. For this reason, religious conservatives attack the godlessness of modern science education — especially when it comes to evolution and the biological sciences. Science is necessarily naturalistic and thus only a godless science works. Read More...
Many religious leaders try to use public school locker rooms as venues for evangelization; coaches abuse their authority over students and their positions as employees of the state to promote their religious beliefs. All of this is wrong: sports in public schools should be a secular affair, without reliance upon or reference to gods. Individuals students are free of course to believe in gods, but the sports programs of public schools must be secular and godless.
Godless Health and Sex Education:
Many religious conservatives seek to smuggle their doctrines into public schools through courses on health and sex education. They hope, for example, that students will be taught that abstinence is the only safe way to prevent pregnancy and disease, leaving them without information on contraceptives. This is a serious mistake: a secular health education program will give students all the correct information, even if it contradicts some people’s religious beliefs.
Religious Studies in Public Schools:
Can godless, secular public schools teach about religion? Yes, but they may be not be permitted to do so. Godlessness does not mean ignorance of religion and a secular program about religion must be objective, fair, and neutral. No religions can be presented as true, no religions can be presented as more right than any other. With all religions, skeptical and critical information must be included. This is unacceptable to True Believers who want their religion presented only in a good light.
Religion and Government Bureaucrats:
Many religious conservatives believe that it infringes on the free speech rights and religious freedom of teachers, coaches, and administrators when they can’t share their religion with students. As representatives of the state, however, their speech and actions are in effect the speech and actions of the state. They are acting on behalf of the state, not as private individuals. As such, their actions cannot be sectarian or take sides when it comes to religious disputes.
Public Schools and Religious Pluralism:
There was a time when most students in public schools were Christian and Protestant in particular. Because of this, public schools could reflect Protestant Christian beliefs and traditions with little worry of complaint. Today, however, communities and schools contain much more religious pluralism. Any favoritism towards one religion over others is immediately perceived as an abuse of government power. Schools must be godless because they must be neutral and fair.
Godlessness and Values:
Religious conservatives fear that godlessness means a lack of values, but that's incorrect. It may mean a lack of the narrow, sectarian values championed by the Christian Right, but these aren’t the only values in existence. They aren’t even all values supported by all Christians, much less by all religious believers. It’s important for schools to help instill basic values in students, but not particular religious values or doctrines. Godlessness allows schools to avoid sectarian strife.
Godlessness Public Schools and Democratic Values:
Public schools are given the task of educating children and preparing them for participation in our democratic culture and democratic political system. None of these goals are advanced in any meaningful way if their education is infused with theism, religion, or religious indoctrination. At no point in a person’s education does the godless, secular nature of that education put them at a disadvantage.
Indeed, there are reasons to think that a secular education is ultimately preferable. For one thing, a secular education should be able to avoid the problems that often accompany the divisive nature of religion. Because students will retain their individual religious beliefs, the possibility of division and conflict cannot be eliminated. Because the educational system itself is secular, however, it is restrained from even giving the appearance of taking sides in religious disputes.
This isn’t just a practical advantage, it’s also an important lesson. It teaches students something they need to know when they enter society, namely that while their religious identity may put them into conflict with other citizens who have a different religious identity, the state and society in general will not take sides and put one religion at an advantage over any other. Religion is a matter of private revelation, faith, and devotion; religion is not a subject of political debate and compromise or public policy.
America is becoming increasingly pluralistic when it comes to religion. Because of this, students of all faiths will have to learn to live with people holding beliefs radically different from their own. A secular, godless school system creates a neutral place where they can all learn the same subjects together and learn from each other without anyone feeling advantaged or disadvantaged. The future of a functioning, pluralistic democracy requires its schools to continue to be neutral in this way.