Sunday, March 20, 2016

Education or Evangelization?

When thinking about religion and the government, a topic of conversation is often education and the role that religion should or does play into a public school education. A large number of cases that reach the Supreme Court involve in some way the teaching of religion on public school grounds. Some notable cases include Wisconsin v. Yoder, Edwards v. Aguillard, Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, Agostini v. Felton, and Mitchell v. Helms, just to name a few. The Supreme Court has decided in a number of ways, but an important deciding factor in each case is that of whether or not the government is excessively entangling with the school system.

The Christian Educators Association International believes that faith is an integral part of teaching children about morals and about right from wrong, and so it aims to instruct Christian teachers on how to live their faith and evangelize in schools. It is training teachers to “transform public schools through God’s love and truth.” It is a non-profit organization and is an alternative to traditional teachers unions, and gives insurance and benefits to its members. Currently, there are about 6,000 members. The group says that what they do is not proselytization, but rather that the school is a place in which the Christian message can and should be spread.

The teachers are trained by attending weekend-long seminars named “Daniel Weekends”. The teachers learn that it is okay to pray with other colleagues during breaks or lunchtime, to lead before or after religious clubs for students, to pray with students outside of work hours, to answer any student’s questions about their beliefs, to keep a Bible on their desk and teach from it (if it fits with the curriculum), and to act in ways that are in accordance with Christian values. They also learn about the First Amendment.

Those in favor of the Christian Educators Association’s goals believe that religion should not be excluded from public schools, and that the First Amendment does not prevent it. Although the government cannot establish religion, it also cannot inhibit the free exercise of students and teachers to express their faith in school. They also say that it teaches students about the Constitution and their rights. Those opposed say that this is unconstitutional and is an establishment of religion. They also say that teachers should not be the ones encouraging or discouraging and religion or religious practices, and rather that should be left to parents and families rather than government officials.

I believe that this is unconstitutional and a violation of the Establishment Clause. Families, not teachers, should encourage religion. While I do think that it is okay to teach about religion in general in the classroom, I do not think a teacher should ever be preaching to his students or favoring one religion over another. By teaching students about their personal values, they are unfairly expressing the views of only one religion. If children see their teachers praying during the school day or see them leading prayer after school hours, they may be coerced into attending a meeting or prayer session, especially if they see the Bible out on the desk every day. I also think that not allowing teachers to spread a Christian message is not a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, because teachers and students are free to pray whenever they choose by themselves, with families, at church, or in any other place they choose. I do think it is okay for teachers to pray together, or for students to get together and pray. But I do not think that students and teachers should be praying together, because this may make other students feel that they must join in. It is also an entanglement of the government and the school, because the teachers are government officials.

What do you think? Should teachers be allowed to spread a Christian message during the school day? Can teachers lead prayer meetings for students? Is it okay for them to share their views on religion with students if they ask?


Rebecca J said...

I agree that this is an unconstitutional violation of the establishment clause. While these teachers are being trained by a private outside group, they are still employed and paid by public institutions and the religious activity happens during the school day. Public schools are government sponsored institutions and therefore should not include religious teachings. I think this case is different from many of the other cases we have discussed since the public school teachers are the ones endorsing religion during school hours, which I think could create a reasonable perception of establishment. While the program claims that it is not engaging in proselytization, the purpose is still to spread religion in public schools, which does not have a secular purpose. Additionally, I think it is also an issue that this program only considers Christian religions. Christian religions are being encouraged in public schools, but other religions are not. This is not maintaining neutrality between religions, which also violates the establishment clause.

Maddie G said...

I agree with Hannah that this seems like an unconstitutional violation of the establishment clause. As long as the teachers are employed by public schools, openly praying at school and teaching using the bible could connote a state endorsement of religion in general or specifically Christianity. The group claims that they are not trying to evangelize, but I think that as long as the program's goal is to give religious teachings and teachers a presence in public schools, students could reasonable construe this as an establishment and monitoring these teachers could create an excessive entanglement.

Natalie Kawalec said...

I agree with your stance on this issue as well as with the comments made above. I think that the Christian Educators Association’s belief that “the Christian message can and should be spread” in public educational institutions is in itself unconstitutional. The teachers’ motive is to teach students how to live their lives in one religious way, which does not treat all religions equally. Furthermore, the teachers do not have a secular intention of teaching the students about religion, but rather preaching one, Christianity. The teachers are representative of the public institution in which they are employed by, which in turn makes them representative of the government. Therefore, religion should either be not taught at all in the school, or it should be taught with the secular purpose of informing students of the various religions that exist in the world. This leaves it up to the students and their families to decide in which way they should live.

Thomas M. said...

I agree from a legal standpoint that some of the aspects that the group teach are unconstitutional but I do not believe that the group is wholly wrong. If teachers wanted to go to seminars and retreats on how to live more religiously, that would be perfectly acceptable to help develop Christian morals. The issues occur when the teachers come close to preaching inside of the classroom. Having a bible situated on your desk and consistently focusing around the bible could lead to influencing the student's religious beliefs. I think that the group has a positive message and goal but that they verged upon mixing secular education too heavily with religious.