News Ticker

Separation of church and state in schools

by Lindsay O'Boyle, Staff Writer

Visual by Summer McGrogan

The First Amendment addresses religion in a statement whose first part is known as the Establishment Clause and whose second half is known as the Free Exercise Clause. It says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” How this statement should be interpreted has been an issue under intense debate for the past century, particularly as to how it relates to public schools. The Supreme Court Case Engel v. Vitale in 1962 set the precedent for future rulings on the issue with the verdict that prayer conducted by public schools violated the Establishment Clause.
However, nowhere in the Constitution does it say “separation of church and state”; it’s only one possible interpretation of the First Amendment and has been the interpretation the Supreme Court has used for the past 50 years.
The Supreme Court rulings do not prohibit students from practicing their own beliefs on school campuses and they should not be viewed as such. Many believe that through these rulings, the government is in effect condemning all religion, and thereby promoting atheism. Parents are outraged that their child can’t read a Bible in school, but this argument isn’t justified. The Supreme Court did not prohibit students from expressing their own religious beliefs out of their own free will. Students can read a Bible, participate in religious clubs and pray out of their own free will as long as they do not create a hazard or force others to listen.
“I think it’s good that schools can’t enforce religion, because there are so many religions out there. Even if they’re not directly pushing a religion, some kids that are different are always going to feel like they have to conform to the majority,” said Isabella Ginsberg, senior.
Teachers play a significant role in how the Supreme Court’s rulings are enforced, since they are the ones dealing directly with students. Teachers’ religious beliefs should not matter or be a factor in hiring teachers; all that matters is that they do not enforce their beliefs on others, even if a majority of students share those same beliefs.They should approach the subject of religion objectively, mentioning only facts.
“As a public school teacher, it’s not my say to bring in religion. I talk about it as how it relates to history and sociology, but to deviate from the California curriculum standards isn’t a teacher’s place,” said Don Mason, history and sociology teacher.
It is difficult to balance church and state especially when our government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. In order to truly be a government for the people, acknowledgement and acceptance of the wide variety of religions and beliefs held by our diverse population is needed. Public schools play an important role in children’s and adolescent’s development and greatly influence their beliefs, so how they handle issues like religion influences how children view it. They should make no mention of religion unless it is for teaching purposes, but they should also not prohibit any student from practicing his or her religion as is protected under the First Amendment.