One of the hottest issues in public life is truly a matter of faith. Everyone has faith in something, whether they call it God or Spirit or Self, we all have some philosophy that guides our lives and decisions.
Some of us grew up in a system that dictated our beliefs and how we lived our lives. We were taught that the things we believed was the only right way and that it was not only a duty, but a necessity to share “the way” with our peers.
Other belief systems may not practice “proselytizing”, which is just a fancy word for what I described above. Some people simply believe that we make our own choices in this matter and that converting others is not a necessary activity. It may even be thought to be intrusive or coercive.
America is truly an exception on the world stage in this department. Our great nation was founded as a melting pot, not only culturally, but also philosophically. Despite the fact that many of the various colonies were extremely fervent in their religious devotion, the overall tenor of the New World was of tolerance and cooperation. Early persecution in religiously controlled colonies, was quickly replaced by Tolerance.
This principle has been applied to modern social life in the form of what we call separation of church and state. In the case of public schools, we assume that the school will not be used as a forum for promoting one religion or denomination over another. In other words: the state will not become the mouthpiece for any single group or organization.
Some people have argued that school properties may not even host religious activities even when the administration makes no claim to support or oppose the tenets of the group. My personal opinion is less strict on that issue; it doesn’t become promotion of religion unless the school participated in the events or programs or made official statements that directly influenced other students to become involved.
The founders of our country clearly supported the right of the people to practice their religions without interference, but also without prejudice, from authorities. From a strictly legal point of view, this is not intended to be a guarantee that unbelievers will be free from any contact with religious activities, only that they will not be required to participate or be unduly pressured to accept said activities.
And this seems to be the complaint of certain people according to this article. The gist of the problem seems to be the fear that the evangelism of some more fervent believers will somehow restrict the freedom from religion that these people suppose to be a right.
I see this as a failure in a couple of ways:
1. If we, as parents, have done a sufficient job of training our children to think critically, then they will have the tools to discern what is good for them and what is not.
2. If our children, properly trained, should choose to accept the religious claims of another group, then they have done that based on a perceived need in their own minds.
Each individual is responsible for setting a course for their own life. We don’t have to agree with that choice, nor must we feel that we have been betrayed by that choice. Raising our children in the precepts of our religion is the easiest form of proselytizing. So when they “turn away” from the faith, it is often taken as an affront to us personally. While I would certainly express some disapproval in some cases, I want my children to know that they are indeed free to make any choices that they deem appropriate to their own path.
What we should not expect is that we will always be free from any exposure to religion or even the occasional contact with the beliefs of those in our communities. I believe that this is an error that has become increasingly popular in public discourse in recent years. I do not think that this is the intent of the separation clause in the Constitution. Otherwise, the same religious folks would need to be protected from any messages of secularism as well.
It reminds me of the adage: “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools.” However, I also believe that it is the responsibility of the schools to ensure the safety and fair treatment of all students in their care. It is similar to what I experienced as a public school student; not all problems can be prevented, and we just have to learn to deal with bullies, etc.
As parents, we have not done our jobs if our children feel intimidated by other children. On the flip side, there will always be conflicts as long as there are differences of opinion. And I am sympathetic to those who feel they are treated disrespectfully because they do not accept the status quo. If only all people of any stripe could learn to be tolerant of others’ beliefs and nondiscriminatory toward those with whom they differ.