culture & community

It’s Not Enough Just to Say “No” to Religion in Public School

by Kate — August 2, 2011

In one state in Australia, christian chaplains are allowed to go into public schools and teach religion for half an hour a week.  This fact has been the source of controversy and debate, in particular from those parents who aren’t religious.

The Age – A Confident Secularist Society Would Tolerate School Religion

Among the objections: that in some schools, children whose parents don’t want them to take the class have no other activity to do during that time; that there is no place for religion in a secular, state-funded school; etc, etc.  I have been mulling it over in my mind for about a month, and then, in that way that coincidence strikes  that seems non-coincidental, I was mindlessly watching tv last night and the show linked below came on.

PBS – Lord is Not on Trial Here Today

Way back in the 1940’s, this exact same debate took place in Illinois, USA, with the result that religion classes were removed from schools.  The similarities between the religion class then and the religion classes taking place now in Victoria, Australia are remarkably similar.   But as I watched the story, something was was bugging me: in all the discussion about the place – or no place – of religion in public school, the glaring missing elephant in the room was a well articulated sense of what secularism, or humanism, is really about, and a deeper sense of what this point of view is that we are fighting for.  There is something spiritual about this pursuit of truth.    It’s not enough, any more, for me to say as a non-religious person I don’t want religion in my child’s school, or life.  That seems a defensive, negative statement.  What is it I believe?  That’s what I want her to learn.  That the many good things in modern society, like science, don’t happen in a vacuum: they happen because our society encourages the pursuit of scientific truth, a long and hard won battle over many generations.  In other words, we as a people think in a certain way that allows skepticism to happen, just as religious people think in a way that allows their conception of God to happen.   None of what we have now happened by accident.   Without consciously meaning to we’ve created a whole new world view – is it time to actively start teaching it?

As a secular parent what I want is the equivalent of a religious class for my child, but secular. I wonder what this class would look like: what kind of stories the teacher would tell to teach the children, what kind of songs, and what kind of pictures the children would colour in.

More to come.

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