Religious topics and prayer used to be a part of the school curriculum and school days in the U.S. up until June 25th, 1962 when in the Engel v. Vitale case, the Supreme Court decided against it. While religion is sometimes taught from a secular perspective, there isn’t an emphasis on it as a study in school curriculum. Should religious education be a part of school’s curriculum or is it unnecessary and cause for confusion?
The debate has heavy arguments on both sides, with passionate opinions for and against. To help you see both sides and understand the debate that surrounds this somewhat controversial topic, following are arguments for religious education being taught in schools with rebuttals covering the opinions of those who are against.
All the Yes points:
- It’s a positive topic
- Children should know and learn about all religions
- It teaches children how to be open-minded and accepting of other people’s faiths and backgrounds
- It teaches ethical values
- RE helps to challenge misconceptions, prejudice and ignorance which can divide society.
All the No points:
It’s a positive topic
Many argue that religion, for the most part, is a positive subject that can provide students with moral and ethical ideas that will help to instill good values in them. From Christianity to the teachings of Buddha and some Islamic beliefs, there is a basis of do good unto others and be kind to your fellow human and people will argue that this is not a harmful topic to be taught in class. An argument for it being positive in student’s lives is that it helps to provide character development due to positive messages like “love thy neighbor as thyself” from the Bible and “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” With a focus on these subjects shared in religious books, many consider the idea of religious education to be a formative and character building one that will provide children with material that will benefit them as adults.
On the flip side, others will bring up that while many religions do teach positive messages about love and kindness, those very same religions also include material that is downright violent. Many people will bring up how the Old Testament is full of horrific stories and that the Koran seems to condone violence. With this in mind, many would argue that the violence in these religious teachings combined with the messages of love and peace in the same books could only serve to cause confusion for students and become a very difficult topic to teach in schools. Others wonder if the stories in these religious books are appropriate for certain ages in schools and if they are to be taught in school curriculums, when should they be taught? The violence and judgmental viewpoints in some religions causes many to question if teaching religious education is actually a good idea.
Children should know and learn about all religions
Some people argue that it’s important for children to have a broad awareness about religions. They believe that it will help them make an informed decision on the religion they would like to believe in and understand it, as opposed to only learning about religion at home. Many people who argue for religious education in school curriculums feel that they would have liked to have been offered an option as children about what to believe and to have been able to learn about the different religions that exist. The argument for children understanding about all religions is that they can have a more logical and well-rounded perspective on faith and religious beliefs so that they can choose to think and what they want to believe, for themselves, instead of it being something that they are taught as a fundamental fact by their parents.
While for a long time, parents of a certain faith pushed for religion to be taught in schools, they were only determined to have their faith taught on the school curriculum. When it comes to several religions being taught, many from strict and staunch religious beliefs will argue that it is confusing for children to be exposed to so many religions, especially if they are being taught to respect and practice a certain one at home. Many people will argue that this is imposing upon the belief system of individuals and their families and that it isn’t fair for children to be exposed by the oftentimes confusing messages found in religions different from their own. Some people consider children to be too young to consider the big questions about life and purpose that are often brought up in religions. They feel that these kinds of deep questions can only cause confusion in young children and make them think about serious topics when they should be still having fun.
It teaches children how to be open-minded and accepting of other people’s faiths and backgrounds
Many will argue that one reason why there are so many issues with religions is that people are not taught to be open about other religions while growing up. For many, religion is a very personal thing that is taught by their own family, so if they feel attacked about their religion, they take offense at it personally as it if is an attack on their family and themselves. The argument for teaching religious education in schools is that helping children to be aware of the broad spectrum of religions and how there are children just like them that believe differently will help them to separate their faith or their family’s religious belief from being a personal matter of who they are. Many people have the opinion that children who are raised to learn about several different religions will grow up to be more tolerant of those who are from different backgrounds and religions—even very strict and possibly “strange” ones.
A contradicting opinion that some people may have is that if so many different religions are being taught in school, children could become confused with why their own parents have chosen to believe in one certain one. Depending on how the religion is taught, many argue that this could cause them to think negatively about their parents and why they believe in a certain religion when there are several different ones. If these children are raised to believe in Christianity, for example, but then they learn about another religion such as Buddhism or Hinduism, they may question why they “have” to believe what they are being taught at home. Some consider RE studies to be disruptive for family life and cause for confusion in children in both deep questions about life and in their personal relationships with their family and their family’s religion.
It teaches ethical values
Many will argue that teaching religion in school is an excellent way to teach values to children. Because many religions do have strong ethical and moral values in them, people feel that they are a great place to start for introducing ethics and morals into children’s lives. Some believe that teaching the values from different religions helps to encourage personal reflection in students that teaches them to be aware of their actions and decisions and also inspires tolerance. Many would say that it also teaches them how there are different ways to believe similar things, but that all “roads lead to the same destination.” For those who believe in the positive side of religious education in school curriculums, the argument is that children are able to develop more than just academic skills, but also humanistic advantages by studying about religion in school.
Other people believe that ethical values can be taught in other ways. The argument is that many non-religious households are successful in raising their children to be respectful and caring individuals who function well in society and who are accepting and tolerant of those from diverse backgrounds. People believe that there are plenty of other ways to instill ethics and morals in children that have nothing to do with religion. From non-religious stories that teach values to historic examples of great people that had nothing to do with religion, the argument is made that ethics are not synonymous with religion, so why should that be a reason for religions to be taught in schools? Those on this side of the debate will argue that when it comes to ethics, religion may not be the best standard by which to teach it due to the often-glaring contrasts that are found in certain religions.
RE helps to challenge misconceptions, prejudice and ignorance which can divide society.
Religion does have the potential to divide (as does politics or any other Human phenomenon) especially if it is not understood. Therefore it is even more important to develop a greater understanding of it to prevent division, ignorance and prejudice especially with the increase in multi-faith societies.
This assumes that religion is being taught as a way to learn about all religions. Often this will not be the case. The chances are that the religion teacher will only have a really good knowledge of their own religion so will mostly teach that and will inevitably be bias in his/her teaching of other religions. This could have the opposite effect from that hoped for by the proposition.
The first question you must ask when looking at this is what about the people who are of different or no faith. Is it worth alienating just one person so that the rest of society can do what they want? If so, I would call that communism and I believe that every individual should have a say in what goes on. If we bring education into the classroom then we are just bringing prejudice into the classroom. There are definately good aspects to religion (but most people do not get their morals from religion), but what are children of religion supposed to think of nonbelievers when their number 1 commandment is “Though shall not worship false gods”? This will surely lead to the nonbelievers being outcasts in a place where they are supposed to just be learning.
I will not deny that learning about religion is important in an educational sense but studying it from a spiritual sense should be done in a person’s own time. Why bring something that is totally irrevalent and based off of beliefs, not pure facts, be brought into the classroom?