Religious Freedom Important in Schools: Jeremy Gunn Discusses Religious Expression in Schools, Global Community
Washington -- An American scholar who extensively has studied religious freedom in Europe and America believes schools should teach young people about the importance of religion as a motivator of human behavior, but unless they are private schools they should not espouse a particular religious belief.
“Many of the conflicts that exist in the world today [both in the United States and internationally] come from people not really understanding religion,” said Jeremy Gunn during an April 24 webchat. “It is important to learn about it. The important thing, however, is that the state not attempt to indoctrinate children on religious matters.”
“Religion is too important to be given to the state to decide what is true and false,” said Gunn, who is director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
During the State Department-sponsored webchat, Gunn discussed the different roles of religion in American and European schools, current religious debates in American schools and the right to religious freedom and expression.
Because freedom of religion and freedom of conscience “are so important for human beings,” he said, schools should attempt to accommodate children’s religious beliefs to the greatest extent possible. “I believe students -- Muslims, Sikhs, and others -- should be permitted to wear religious clothing and symbols to state schools. Of course, they cannot be disruptive in schools or use the symbols to proselytize others,” Gunn said.
Although state-funded schools should be allowed and encouraged to teach lessons about religion, teachers should not indoctrinate students or promote one religious interpretation over another, Gunn said.
He pointed out that religion is more likely to be taught in European state schools than in American ones. Many European state schools teach religion, but in most cases students who do not wish to have a religious education are permitted to attend a “more neutral course on ethics,” Gunn said.
American public schools, in comparison, are allowed to discuss religion’s history and ideas, but teachers are prohibited from promoting any kind of religious belief, Gunn said. Many private schools in America are religious; they must satisfy state education standards but also can provide religious education.
According to Gunn, the major current issue involving religion in U.S. schools is a Georgia state statute allowing Bible classes to be taught in public schools. He feels it is “perfectly permissible” for state schools to teach classes about religion, but “if teachers attempt to promote a Protestant, or Jewish, or Catholic interpretation [of the Bible] -- that would be wrong and it would be unconstitutional.”
On the teaching of so-called “intelligent design” in schools alongside or instead of evolution theory, Gunn said that the ACLU’s position is that it is acceptable to discuss intelligent design as a theory some people believe about Earth’s creation, “intelligent design should not be taught as if it is science in schools” because the theory is based on faith and religious beliefs.
He considers the concept of religious freedom to be a global ideal. Religious freedom “is believed all over the world -- particularly by people whose rights are being abused by governments. People everywhere are seeking freedom of expression, freedom to vote, and freedom to practice their religion,” Gunn said.
Almost all countries formally agree to the concept of religious freedom, he said, and numerous states have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international treaties. However, many states that formally recognize this right “do not practice it at home,” Gunn said.
Gunn began the webchat by saying that he was expressing his personal opinions.
Gunn is a member of the advisory panel of experts on freedom of religion or belief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He formerly served as senior adviser for the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom at the U.S. Department of State. He has been a visiting professor at universities in France, Canada, Tunisia and Germany, and published numerous works on American and French legal and religious history and religious liberty themes. He received his Ph. D. in religion and society from Harvard University. (See his biography on the ACLU Web site.)
More information about religion in America is available in the USINFO ejournal The Religious Landscape of the United States. Also see International Religious Freedom.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov) Read more: http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2006/April/20060424182928asnietsreuef9.775943e-02.html#ixzz1CekDUcNj
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of State.
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