Religious Expression in Public Schools

Religion is a significant part of our culture. It is too bad that many have taken the "freedom of religion" clause and contorted it into a "freedom from religion" clause. I support freedom of religious expression in the public--including public schools. But I don't support current legislation in the Utah Senate that wants to protect that freedom. Here's why...

Sometime back I wrote a post stating my preference that prayer be allowed and encouraged in public school settings. I also support freedom of religious expression in public schools. A better cultural exchange I can hardly think of. Wearing of hats and t-shirts with religious emblems, passing out flyers inviting others to religious events, and religious groups using public school facilities during non-school hours are all implementations of this free expression.

The Supreme Court has clearly defined that religious expression is allowed in public schools. It's ironic, then, that there occurs the occasional attempt to ban such expression. I'm sure the ACLU and others in their traveling caravan are not content with the current state of religious liberty in America. But compared to the French, who have banned religious symbols in public schools, the United States is in pretty good shape when it comes to religious expression.

Because of the existing Supreme Court decision, I don't support Senator Chris Buttars' legislation pending in the Utah legislature, which would protect religious freedom in Utah. Interestingly, Section 63-90c-103 of the proposed new law would read (in part):

(1) Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state under the
Utah Constitution Article I, Section 4, even if laws, rules, ordinances, or other government actions are facially neutral.

I'm pretty sure, in the absence of this bill becoming a law, that a 100% majority of the Utah Supreme Court would agree with this statement. So...religious freedom in Utah is already protected.

Where is the motivation for this bill?

I know of a young man who was sent home from school because he had a CTR shirt on," says Buttars. "That's terrible."

I agree that it's terrible. But it's already illegal.


  1. You say "freedom from religion" like it's a bad thing. I happen to like having religion-free zones in our culture. Public schools especially ought to teach critical thinking, which means faith-based doctrine is not taught. We have religious schools for that.

  2. A major part of Western culture is religion. (This is even greater in the East.) In fact it’s the root of the world, (cult)ure means religion. You have to go to the most primitive civilizations to find societies completely devoid of religion. Historically all civilized peoples have had organized religion and the means to perpetuate belief in their children. I don’t say this should be government’s responsibility, nor should the purpose of public school be to promote a given sect or creed. I just don’t understand Rick’s aversion to an aspect of our nature that makes us uniquely human. To leave our religion outside the school door means we leave a vital part of our nature and culture behind. This denudes education in my opinion.

    That said, I agree with Frank that this legislation is not needed. We try to fix too many problems by passing laws. If the parents of public school children really wanted prayer and other religious expression in school, they could have it tomorrow with no laws passed.

  3. Richard,

    I agree that to some people, religion is not critical thinking. But to some people global warming is not critical thinking either. We can have dogmatism in just about any subject.

    I do say "freedom from religion" is bad. I agree with anonymous that religion is a major part of the culture worldwide and that it makes us uniquely human. There are religious fanatics and there are animal protection fanatics. Just because some religious fanatics exist doesn't make religion a bad thing any more than animal protection fanatics make animal protection a bad thing.

  4. The problem with allowing religious groups to use school facilities after school hours is that it means any religious group would have to be allowed equal access and so would atheists. Theoretically this is possible but I wonder if it would really work out like that in practice. I can see fights occurring because someone thought the Christians got a bigger room than the Muslims, or maybe the Christians complained because the Wiccans were allowed the same rights, and then what does the state do if someone wants to perform voodoo sacrifice in the science lab because it's part of their religion? But the most likely problem I think is that many "religious" groups preach intolerance and hatred toward other religious groups. That isn't conducive to a harmonious school environment.

  5. btw, since you mentioned global warming, have you seen this:

  6. Elizabeth,

    I share your concern. The big debate here in Utah for Senator Buttars is, 'do you really want total religious freedom in the public schools, or just for Mormons?' I think this is a good point. When we talk about religious freedom, we mean for everyone, even if their religion is eccentric.

    A lot of religious groups do have adherents that teach religious intolerance. Radical islam is one, and to a smaller extent, so is Born-Again Christianity. But this is not the point of religion. I suspect there are Mormons who are this way, but I hope not many. Diversity in religion should be not only healthy, but fascinating to all.

    I still think we'll be better of if will encourage and allow all religions equally to use public facilties, including schools.

    I'll reply to your other comment in the Global Warming thread.


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