Respecting All Faiths in Our Public Schools

By Dr. A. Scott Henderson

Dr. A. Scott Henderson is a former secondary social studies teacher who is now a professor of education at Furman University. His blog is part of this week’s “Religious Freedom Goes to School” blog series. Share your story about religious freedom in South Carolina’s public schools by reporting potential religious freedom violations to us.

When I was a first-year teacher, I had the opportunity to tutor an eighth-grade boy (I’ll call him “John”) who had recently moved to the United States from India. We spent an hour together each day for an entire school year. During that time I got to know John pretty well.

One day after we had finished going over John’s assignments, we began talking about his life in India. He shared with me that he and his family were Sikhs. Among other practices, many devout Sikhs keep their hair unshorn. I was saddened to learn, however, that John’s father had decided that John and his brother would have to cut their hair in order to keep from being constantly teased in school. John never really got over having to wear his hair short to avoid ridicule (or worse) from his classmates.

While the issue of hair length may seem trivial to non-Sikhs, the recent murder of six Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, illustrates that respect for all religions is a very serious matter.  We often forget that an important part of religious freedom is the acceptance—or, better yet, the celebration—of religious diversity. In many American public schools, Christianity is considered the default religion, with all other faith traditions (or the lack thereof) being considered deviations from the norm. So, for example, parents, students, and even some teachers see nothing wrong with prayers in school, as long as they are Christian prayers.

We can and should remain vigilant in protecting religious freedom, which includes observing the separation of church and state, and—as my experience with John demonstrates—the need to make sure that people of all faiths, or no faith at all, are respected in our public schools.

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Anonymous

It seems like the ACLU is the msin obstacle to religious freedom. They are the ones who stand in the way of prayer in schools. How can they support religious freedom for all other religions except Christianity? IF they are supportive of one religion they need to be supportive of all. They talk out of both sides of their mouths.

roald

Anonymous (first entry), I urge you to invest some time on this site and see what the ACLU does. I have and understand that:
- the ACLU has no problem with prayer in school unless it is at the urging, guidance, or with the support of representatives of the state or unless it disrupts the proper operation of the school.
- the ACLU has defended the rights of Christians to practice their religion in schools and elsewhere when threatened by the state.
- the ACLU would come to the aid of a religious student who was not allowed to preach on the playground during recess as long as the proper operation of the school was not impeded

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