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Religion In Public Schools

Feb 15, 2017 by

Missing an opportunity to feel offended doesn’t sit well with me. I want what everybody else has or looks for.  It took 50 years, but finally a delayed reaction kicked in and I was aggrieved at last. I’m basking in the dividends gained by seizing on a pretext for indignation.

For a half-century I was clueless but this new-found awareness that my pride and heritage had been trodden upon by what had been a routine government-sponsored activity in my childhood  has got me a large audience of those prone to commiserate.

I’m referring to the prayer that was recited at our weekly assembly in a public elementary school in New York City. As a non-Christian, I was subjected to unsolicited imagery of brotherhood and charity.  I think it was a generic and humanistic benediction, but those who get their jollies by egging-on other people, assure me that  this is irrelevant, because any “prayer” is an inherent insult to the Constitution which proscribes moral chatter.

Nobody had apprised me of my right to clamor. All those years ago I knew nothing of class-action opportunities. Still, though, there is an evidence trace of my resistance to contemporary culture.

During “holiday season” recently, I visited a shopping center that had an overt Christian scene on display and it didn’t occur to me to sign a petition of protest. But I was a bit annoyed when I got an “Xmas” card. I’m not a vetted prelate or parishioner, but frankly I found the letter “x” rather asinine.  What was I thinking?

All those years of having proverbs imposed on me at PS90 had a curiously non-traumatizing effect. It didn’t crimp my lifestyle, put a dampener on my relationships, lure me off the straight and narrow or have the effect of impugning my own faith. It was more of a burden having to wear blue pants, a white shirt and a red tie every Wednesday.

Does moral instruction have a legitimate role in public education, apart from extrapolations from literature and history lessons, where the conduct of fictional or real-life characters is examined.  The scrutiny of religious texts may be taboo, but must that extend also to the universally applicable benign lessons drawn from them?

Dare we have a few moments of silence set aside in schools on a regular basis for broad  spiritual contemplation? Or must we tip-toe over and skirt around the liberating obstacle of religion altogether?

Surprisingly we haven’t yet abandoned the “moment of silence” in memory of the fallen.

Naturally there should be no “comparative religion” studies at least in the lower grades, as that topic is a can of worms and a hornet’s nest, and it would spark litigation over consequences to lost tempers. There must be no potentially inflammatory references or preaching of doctrine on any level.   But what about the pure poetry of some psalms, for instance?  Must we by theological paranoia take leave of our senses even before we take leave of our bodies?

Will we be soiled by a discreet utterance or reflection about decency that is not pegged to any particular religion? An anonymous deity, a nameless creator that can be individually insinuated by choice in the silent souls of those present?

Prayer as prayer is forbidden. We got the memo. (Although the Serenity Prayer” almost makes the cut)

Even apart from our religion, there is too much disingenuous touchiness about our sensibilities. People get talked into feeling that they are being disrespected and go along for the ride. It gives them the luster of victim-hood and the perks that sometimes go with it.  Some of these folks have voluntarily forgotten their nominal creed until nudged by the lure of group-identification.

Some play at feeling hurt. Their hearts have been tutored into reading cue cards. I must be a “hard nut to crack” because I saw no anti-semitism in an evangelical who wished me “happy Easter.”

Maybe it’s just as well that spirituality has no place in our schools, except anecdotally. Most schools couldn’t get a gathering of kids to be quiet long enough to listen anyway.

The Department of Education’s own indoctrination insists that learning is achieved by every student’s self-discovery, not through adult direction. We must yield to their eventual encounter of the truths of right and wrong and trust that they will decide for themselves what works best for them.   Laissez-faire is not just an economic theory anymore.

Religious systems have no place in public schools. But religious principles do.

Ron Isaac

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