The Leopard

Religious Conversations Do Not Belong In Schools

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Aliya Lewis, Opinion Writer

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Public school, by definition, is a school supported by public funds that is free of bias or prejudice nature’s; free of preference toward any specific group, race, culture, nationality or belief system. Unfortunately, many of public schools do not abide by this definition. According to the Center for Public Education (CPE), “…public schools must obey two legal requirements that are hard to reconcile: let it be, and push it away. These are the clashing and equally forceful commands contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution uses 16 words—known as the “religion clauses”—to create rules about how faith and government interact. One clause gives citizens the right to freely exercise religious convictions; the other prohibits government (including taxpayer-funded public schools) from establishing religion, meaning granting favorable treatment.”.  

 

Due to the religion clause in the U.S. Constitution being so unclear about the specifics and the stipulations that go along with this clause– there is a lot of room left for uncertainty and miscommunication among coworkers and the school system. As a repercussion of this uncertainty, there are many questions that are left unanswered, such as: how far can students or school staff go in expressing their beliefs and when have school officials gone too far in letting religion reign? Since these questions have not been answered or even truly acknowledged, that creates an opportunity for multiple problems to occur within schools. The U.S. Supreme Court gets to give the final verdict when problems like these arise within our education system.

 

There have been, and still are, many problems and disputes that are brought to the Supreme Court for a final verdict. The Supreme has been asked whether or not the school district can or should allow students to conduct prayers over the loudspeaker and before kickoff at a varsity football game (which the Supreme Court decided was not allowed). Whether or not a religious student club gets the same rights and privileges as other student clubs (which the Supreme Court decided all clubs are seen equally and held to the same standards). The Supreme Court also decided that a school district is required to give equal access to outside organizations that provide after-school religious instruction to young children. The Court has also said, in some instances, a moment of silence could, and has been used as a cloaking device for prayer. The Court has yet to come to a final decision of whether or not the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional in schools.

 

Here, at East High School, the question of whether or not religious preference is a present part of our school’s environment and part of the environment of other schools in Utah’s public school system is a resounding yes. Religion is a huge part of the climate here in Utah, and the schools within this  state. The state of Utah is primarily Mormon or a part of The Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS); 63% to be exact. When asked if religion was a present force in our schools environment, Whitney Watchman, an Assistant Principal here at East , responded, “I think there is a majority of students that are of a particular religion; that religion being The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.  This school’s student population is a large portion of that 63% of LDS residents with in the state of Utah.

 

Public schools, have the obligation to uphold the Constitution, unlike religious or private schools. Private school is a school supported by a private organization or private individuals rather than by the government; a school supported wholly by the payment of fees. Due to the fact that private schools are supported by funds they create on their own (tuition, donors, fundraising, etc.), they are not held to the same standards as a public school who receives all of its funding from the government. Public schools have their rules and guidelines set in place by the government, whereas private schools are, to some extent able to create their own rules and guidelines for the school and the students that receive education there. Public schooling has somewhat drifted away for the guidelines set by the government. In classrooms, it was unacceptable for teachers to take a stance in a religious conversation that would show their own religious beliefs. At East, there have been times when teachers conversed about such topics instead of teaching the curriculum. There are times when it feels as though other people’s religion is being pushed onto others in a setting  that is entirely inappropriate.

 

Religion is a very large part of the demographics in public high schools. Some choose not to address the problem, but there are some people who choose to deny its existence. Religious preference is a living, breathing part of the school system when it has been decided it is in bad-form. Just because you choose to ignore the rain does not mean it is not hitting the ground and we need to address that religion should not be forced into students lives who choose not to invest in such beliefs.

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