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.
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of State.
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