Just Say No To Coercion

The Proper Place For Religion In Public Schools

Critics sometimes accuse Americans United of being hostile to religion because we oppose devotional religious practices in public schools.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Americans United opposes religious coercion in public schools. We believe parents should be able to send their children to public schools secure in the knowledge that the children will not be pressured by school personnel to take part in religious practices. We are protecting parental and family rights.

It is not the job of public schools, AU argues, to sponsor religious worship. At the same time, we do not oppose objective efforts to teach about religion in public schools. It is appropriate to discuss the role of religion in history, art, music and other classes. The approach here must be educational, not devotional.

AU stands firm against any effort to muddy these waters. Focus on the Family has been promoting the efforts of Gateways to Better Education, a California outfit that has a long history of trying to slip dogma into the schools under the guise of teaching about religion.

A few years ago, Gateways produced a pamphlet featuring a talking Easter rabbit who advised public school teachers about ways they could teach about the resurrection of Jesus in class. The advice was dubious at best. Gateways has produced similar publications for Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Halloween, always looking for ways to inject its version of Christianity into the schools.

Similarly, groups like the Christian Educators Association International openly brag about ways their members share their faith in the classroom.

The Legal Department of Americans United often sends letters to public schools when we get word of inappropriate promotion of religion in class. Our lawyers explain the law and advise school officials what they must do to stay on the right side of it.

AU’s work in this area bothers the Religious Right. These are organizations, after all, that still can’t accept the fact that the Supreme Court got the public schools out of the religion business nearly 50 years ago, declaring that the home and the house of worship are the proper places for prayer and religious instruction.

AU will continue working to keep public schools neutral on questions of theology. Despite the entreaties of the Religious Right, AU will remain guided by a simple principle: teaching about religion in public schools is fine. Indoctrination and sponsoring religion is not.