Thursday, September 3, 2009

Religious liberty in this public school...Part I

Next week the school board of the local public school, which my children attend, will be holding a public forum to discuss the planned implementation of a religious liberty policy for the district. And I have some mixed feelings.

Let me explain...

I stand in favor of allowing religious liberty to all so that no one can be hindered from practicing or expressing their faith. And I think this policy is intended for just such purposes. It is comprehensive enough to allow freedom for students to express faith, for teachers to teach about religion (although a neutral, value-free approach is impossible), for the classics in music, art, and drama (which are mostly all religious in nature) to be present, and while trying to maintain that proselytizing is strictly prohibited.

But I wonder just how realistic this policy can actually be implemented.

I mean...
Where do you draw the line between talking about a cross as a symbol and proselytizing? I, if I were a teacher, could choose to talk about the historic significance of the cross and it's place in religion and art, and someone else could interpret it at my own religious expression and complain that I violated their own freedom of religion.
I know that's a bit presumptive...but not unlikely.

And while the policy is intended to give religious freedom to all, we have to be aware of the fact that in this area the population is overwhelmingly Christian in the majority. There is a small Jewish presence, and several others, but they are very small.

My uneasiness comes in here: Since we're in a dominantly Christian community most people are going to be okay with another kid praying before they eat their lunch or the choir singing a Christian piece at a concert.

But what happens when a Muslim student brings a Qu'ran to class and it offends some kids? Are we going to be okay, as parents, with my kid having the right to read his Bible and their kid reading the Qu'ran? Or are we going to enjoy religious liberty when it means my kid can read his Bible and then abandon it when competing viewpoints are expressed? Are we going to be comfortable, really, with allowing the same religious liberty to Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Wickens, Pagans, Satanists, B'hais, Secular Humanists, Atheists, and everyone else? Or are we going to enjoy this policy for a while and then seek to revoke it when the kid next to ours starts sharing his wicken symbols?

I'm open to having such a religious liberty policy in place, but I think we should really know what we're getting ourselves into. If we're going to adopt it, and say we're giving religious liberty to all, we have to know the ramifications of the word "all." If we enjoy the freedom ourselves we have to be willing to extend that same freedom to others, even if they practice a faith with which we disagree. If we want our kids to be able to talk about their Christian faith at school then we have to be willing to allow kids of other faiths to talk freely as well.

Failure to do so is just another form of state-sponsored religion.

So, are we up to it?
Are we willing to enjoy the liberty and allow others to enjoy it, as well?

So I'm not really sure if I'm in favor of this policy or not. I guess I am...but I just don't want us to implement something we don't really mean...and I don't want us to implement it and then wind up fighting to revoke it a few years down the road.

What are your thoughts?

Tomorrow: A discussion on this policy and ramifications for teachers.

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