Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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September 11, 2012

God goes back to the public schools

By Charles Haynes

First Amendment Center

Millions of kids have returned to school — and, contrary to culture-war rhetoric, most of them didn't leave their faith at the schoolhouse door.

As classes get under way, public school students across America will form religious clubs, pray together in their free time,

distribute religious literature to classmates, share their religious convictions in class discussions and in many other ways belie the myth of the "godless public schools."

Many teachers, meanwhile, are gearing up to teach about religions in various history and literature classes. State standards, especially in the social studies, now require that students learn something (and, in some states, a considerable amount) about the major faith traditions.

This much religion in schools may strike some readers as surprising and new. But God hasn't come back into public education overnight.

In fact, it has taken more than two decades for student religious expression and study about religions to return, slowly but steadily, to public schools — owing to court decisions, legislation, and broadly supported guidelines issued by religious, educational and civil liberties groups. (Download consensus guidelines from Finding Common Ground at www.religiousfreedomeducation.org)

Considering the slow pace of most changes in public education, the high level of inclusion of religion in only 20 years is nothing less than a quiet revolution.

Of course, the return of religion to public schools doesn't mean that all schools are getting religion right.

Two weeks ago, I visited a school district in Michigan that remains mostly silent about religion in its policies and practices.

As a result, the school climate suffers in this religiously diverse community.

In a recent survey of students, for example, every Muslim student reported having been harassed because of his or her faith.

In districts still afraid to deal with religion, religious diversity remains the ignored diversity.

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