When it comes to public schools there are a few different things that any parent, student, and teacher may come in contact with. Religion is one topic that is often avoided in schools and to better understand why that is, it is important to understand the history of separation of school and religion and a bit about why Religion in Schools bothers people so much.
Religion and Schools in History
In the early days of civilization the people were not able to afford schooling on their own. In most cases, those that were able to afford schools were the monestary and convent which meant that church and school was very deeply intertwined. In these days, it was far more common for girls and boys to be sent to a convent or church to learn. At these facilities students would learn about church practices, latin, the Bible and more. This was a common practice and often led to students getting a very secular education that was grounded in religion. Because these religious institutions were the only people that were able to afford books, teachers, and other materials that were needed to teach students.
In these days it was not uncommon for students to receive an education that was completely centered on religion. This was a great way for the Church to create students that were ready and willing to go to church and become part of the church in some cases. This was a popular tactic for those religious institutions that wanted to find students that would be able to continue the traditions of the church.
Religion and School in Early Days of America
When our country was first founded many churches doubled as school houses for a few different reasons. First off, schools and churches were once structured similarly with good reason. Long before grades were established and students were separated by age, all students were taught in one room school houses that doubled as churches on Sunday. This was an easy and fast way to get a room that would hold a large number of students without having to buy or build another structure in which to teach. As a result, there were often religious icons like crosses and mother Mary statues scattered around these one room school houses making religion and school one.
One room school houses were often also the church of the town because this allowed students the opportunity to learn the values of the church to which they belonged while learning other valuable skills and lessons. During the early days of America, there were very few religions and those that existed all had similar views. This meant that the children attending school, even if they were of a differing religion, would have similar views to those that were attending with them. Also, in most cases, the towns and villages that were founded were centered around the religion of the people that lived there which meant that the people that were sending their children to school were also very religious so religion in school was not a big deal.
When Did School and Religion Separate?
Though church and state had been intertwined for a very long time, it became necessary to separate the two was first noticed and became a legal matter in 1947 with the case Everson v. Board of Education. The case was a landmark case that addressed reimbursement to parents of students that took public transportation via the school bus to school. Parents of both children in public schools and those in private religious schools were refunded which met with contention when one parent claimed that this violated the separation of church and state. It was ruled that reimbursements were legal because they were offered to all students regardless of religion and that the money was being given to the parents of the students rather than the parents themselves.
Freedom of Religion in Schools
There are some schools and parents that claim that there should be a freedom of religion in schools because our country was founded on religious freedom. That being said, there are other groups that claim that religion in schools is offensive and should be left to parents at home. There are some benefits and draw backs to both sides of the story. In some cases, religion is a big part of learning such as in private schools that are not state funded. These schools are allowed to teach religion in schools even though they are schools because they do not receive funding from the government. That being said, this almost always leads to expensive tuition for parents, fundraisers to raise money, and even the need for state tests to award diplomas.
Since the government does not give these schools money, they cannot restrict and regulate what is being taught. This means that students that want a diploma after they complete a religious course of study often have to take assessments or even take a GED instead of a diploma. There are some benefits however, private religious schools do have some benefits. The first is that private funding and tuition often means that these schools do have better funding and therefore better equipment, better books, and more for students. This also means that prayer in school and freedom of religion in schools is very encouraged in these schools.
There are some benefits and draw backs to keeping religion out of schools as well. As the religion in schools debate goes, there are plenty of parents that claim that teaching religion in schools takes away from education. There are no studies that are centered on religion in schools but there are plenty of parents that prefer that their students not be taught any religion. Another benefit to keeping religion out of schools is that without religion in schools, there is one less thing that students can persecute one another for.
Prayer in Public Schools
There is a happy medium to this debate however. In many schools, there are prayer and religious groups that students can participate in that allow them to pray in schools. This means that even though religion is kept out of all public schools as much as possible, there are avenues for those students that want to bring religion into their school. There are other options as well, in some cases, teachers will allow students the chance to pray or do other religious activities when class is not in session. In most cases, religion is kept out of schools for the simple fact that there is more trouble in allowing religion in schools that there is benefit for the students that are taking part.
Students are allowed a certain amount of freedom when it comes to their own personal beliefs but for the most part, teachers and administrators are encouraged to keep religion out of schools as much as possible. There are plenty of schools that allow Bible study groups, prayer groups, and other religious groups to meet on campus but often times they do not allow funds to be funneled into these groups. In most cases, these groups do nothing more than meet on school grounds as they are required to fund themselves and get money from the members for any extracurricular activities. This is a great way to allow religion in schools without going overboard.
Which Side is Right?
There is no real way to tell which side is right in the debate. There are arguments for and against religion in schools and there are sure to be studies done that evaluate the effectiveness or detrimental effects of religion in schools. Though most students are content to muddle through classes doing nothing more than completing their homework and going about their day, there are some that feel they want to share their religious beliefs with others. In the interest of not offending anyone, it is likely that groups and clubs will be all the religion that is allowed in schools for the simple fact that this will keep people that feel religion has no place in schools content. Religion in schools is a debate that will be ongoing for decades no matter what as there are so many differing opinions on the matter. There are more sides to this argument that just about any other argument out there and the best way to make a choice is to learn everything you can and take the time to see how each side sees the argument.
Religion in schools might be one of the causes of religion bullying there and maybe this is one another reason why there are those who still want to make religion for the church only.