By Louis Thomas
Before anyone becomes emotional or defensive about the title, let me explain what I am discussing. This is not a criticism of anyone’s belief in God or any power greater than ourselves. It is not an attack on Christianity or Mormonism or any specific religion. Nor is this a discussion as to whether there is or is not a God.
Let’s be very clear, what I call religion in this context are certain practices of churches and their attempts to control public education in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their aim is to control what children learn, what teachers teach and what the purposes of public education should be. They aim at total control of individual liberty.
What some churches do today is far removed from the teachings of great moral individuals like Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi, Switzer or King. Rather, they preach intolerance, scorn for those who believe differently than they do and rigid adherence to church power rather than to individual conscience. They preach hatred for their enemies, holiness of money and acceptance of racism. How often have you heard that Mormons are not Christians, that Jews are infidels, that Muslims are out to kill everyone or that the other religion is false and one’s God is better than the other person’s God.
Now let me discuss the central issue of this paper - religion as a cancer in pubic education. Religion, like cancer, attacks the various “organs” of public schools.
First is the attack on personal health. Religious extremists object to the teaching of sex education and any mention of contraceptive and the use of biological names of body parts. Knowledge of these topics, they claim, will lead to a greater number of young people to engage in sexual activity. The opposite is true. Knowledge prevents engagements in unhealthy sexual activities. It leads to a reduction of unwanted pregnancies. The healthy habits of young people improve greatly when they have knowledge of the dangers involved in pre-marital sex. The abstinence only sex education programs have been a miserable failure by any standard to measure their effectiveness. The health of our children is dependent on an understanding of how their bodies work - period.
Second there is the attack on science. Objections to the teaching of evolution, biology and anthropology are numerous and wide spread. The critics desire to submit creationism, intelligent design and original sin into the curriculum of the schools. All of these efforts are in contradiction to scientific knowledge and to the separation of church and state - as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Critics certainly have the right to believe items based on faith; but there is no justification for teaching faith-based beliefs in public education.
Third there is the attacks on history. Attempts to “prove” that this nation was founded on Christian principles is a strong desire of public education critics. They try to establish that our Founding Fathers were devoted Christians or holy men who lived pure lives. History, however, is clear. Most “Founders” rarely attended church, owned slaves, and wrote very little about religious topics. Jefferson denied the deity of Jesus, Washington rarely attended church and often criticized it. Of the “Founders” only John Adams was a practicing Christian who professed his strong religious beliefs. Most of these men who revolted against England were Deists who insisted on the separation of church and state.
We as a nation are blessed to have an Amendment in our Constitution that requires the separation of government activities from personal actions. As individuals we can express our religious beliefs at anytime in any place. But schools, as a government service, cannot , and shall not, be involved in religious actions or the promotion of religious beliefs. To do so is to feed the cancer that will destroy public education. That is something that a democratic nation cannot allow to occur. And we should all be diligent to prevent misguided individuals from infecting our public schools with religious causes.