Commitment to universal education is one of the noblest aspects of
the American tradition. In its origins this commitment is rooted in a
fundamentally religious understanding, articulated by our founding
fathers, of the God-given dignity and essential equality of all persons.
In this view, the nature and destiny of human beings create a moral
imperative obliging all members of the community to help bring about the
conditions within which each will have opportunity to achieve the
fullest possible realization of his or her personhood: to grow—physically,
intellectually, morally and spiritually—to the fullest dimensions of
humanity of which he or she is capable.
Public education in the United States is a concrete expression of
this shared vision and commitment. Historically, American public
education did not originate as a simply humanistic or humanitarian
system.(1) It was founded instead upon an understanding of the child as
a person whose nature and destiny include but transcend the here-and-now
dimensions of the secular.
This religious view of the person, however, is not universally held
today. Therefore it is not surprising that there is much confusion and
controversy concerning education: for one's philosophy of education is
inevitably shaped by one's understanding of the human person.
Discussions of public education are also made more complex by
considerations of constitutional law and public policy. While these
considerations are exceedingly important, the deeper, more important
question for education concerns the nature and destiny of the human
person. For our part, we take as self-evident the view enunciated a
half-century ago by the United States Supreme Court: "The child is
not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his
destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and
prepare him for additional obligations."(2)
If we agree on who the child is, we can begin to shape an educational
system which suits his or her personality and needs. If agreement is not
possible, we must devise alternative approaches to education which
respect reasonable and legitimate differences concerning human nature
and destiny. In the latter case, we should avoid a monolithic approach
which gives preference and preferment to only one philosophy of
education and only one view of the human person, as in a totalitarian
The time has come for serious reflection and dialogue on public
education's duty, considered in this light. We wish here to contribute
to this process, and we urge others to take part in the effort.
In recent years a critical dilemma has emerged in public education, a
dilemma which involves millions of American children and their parents.
On the one hand, education cannot be free of values: public educators
rightly state that the public schools promote values, and citizens,
especially parents, rightly expect them to do so. On the other hand, the
law of the land, as interpreted by the courts, prohibits any values in
public education except secularistic ones. How, then, are the religious
rights and the rights of conscience of children and parents who do not
accept the secularistic view of human nature and destiny to be respected
in an educational system where only secularistic values are allowed?
There is also a more poignant aspect to the dilemma: How to prevent the
rights of such children and parents from being violated in such a
system? We believe that violations have occurred—for the most part
unintentionally—and will continue to occur until ways are found to
At the outset we wish to emphasize that we are neither attacking nor
indicting public educators. For the sensitivity and dedication with
which they approach their tasks they deserve the gratitude and support
of all members of the community. Many are deeply concerned with the
dilemma we have described and are actively searching for solutions. We
gladly take this opportunity to express our appreciation of their
efforts. We encourage them to continue their search, in collaboration
with the rest of the community, for educational approaches which respect
the rights of conscience—and the profound human needs—of all the
students entrusted to their care.
We also urge parents to join in this dialogue about the future of
public education. As the primary educators of their children, they have
not only the right but the duty to participate responsibly in the
process by which the educational system is evaluated and adapted. Thus
we offer our comments for their thoughtful consideration and response.
Similarly, we invite other concerned citizens, including public
officials and leaders of other churches, community groups, and
appropriate professional organizations or agencies, to join in dialogue
about the future of public education. This crucial subject calls for the
best insights and collaborative efforts of all. The need now is for
generosity and good will as we seek in a spirit of mutual respect for a
solution to the present dilemma of public education and student
conscience. It is in this spirit that we offer our suggestions and urge
dialogue concerning one of the most urgent issues in our country today.
II. The Problem
There is no such thing as "value free" education. The
question is not whether education—any education—inculcates
values, but what values are inculcated by a particular
educational program. Although the "values" question is
enormously complex, it is not unrealistic to speak in general of three
kinds of values: "religious," "secular" and "secularistic."
Religious values are rooted in the belief that God exists and that human
beings are created by God and destined for eternal life with Him. For
their part, authentic secular values, which of themselves do not extend
beyond the temporal aspects of life, do not exclude the religious
dimension of human life; indeed, they are fully compatible with it,
since they emphasize appreciation of the goodness and importance of
God's creation. The problem arises with secularistic values. As matter
either of theory or practice, they exclude reference to the religious
and seek their basis in beliefs about human nature and destiny limited
to this world alone. At its most extreme, the secularistic worldview
explicitly rejects the religious worldview and orients the authentically
"secular" toward the "secularistic." The heart of
the problem in public education today is the de facto dominance
of secularistic values.
Well over a decade ago, in a series of decisions concerning prayer
and Bible reading, the United States Supreme Court in effect excluded
religious values from the public schools.(3) We do not intend to subject
the court's decisions to a new and exhaustive critique. However, one can
only conclude that these rulings mandate a practical impossibility. They
require public schools to be neutral in a matter in which there can be
no neutrality. Notice that we say "can be," not "should
be;" our point is not that neutrality in the public schools is
undesirable, but that it is impossible. The result of the Supreme Court
decisions has for the most part been to substitute secularistic values
for religious ones in public education.(4) This violates both the
concept of democracy in the educational process and the philosophy of
the Constitution itself. It also violates the Supreme Court's own
underlying view that public education should not give preference to one
value system over another.
Whether or not one subscribes to the theory behind this analysis, it
is abundantly clear that, as a matter of fact, neutrality in public
education has proved elusive and the "neutrality" now
practiced in public schools is illusory. In 1969 the American Jewish
Committee stated that the public schools "should maintain complete
neutrality in the realm of religion. They should never undermine the
faith of any child, nor question the absence of religious belief in any
child."(5) Although we do not agree that "complete
neutrality" is possible, we fully agree that the public school has
no right either to undermine religious belief or challenge unbelief. Yet
religious belief and religious values are now being subtly but surely
undermined in public education.
In the following section we shall point to examples of how and why
this is so. Here we wish only to note that widespread public and
parental discontent with the present situation in itself shows that the
solutions to the dilemma attempted so far not only do not work but
profoundly violate the religious and moral convictions of a large
segment of the community.(6) This situation must be faced candidly and
It would be unrealistic and unfair to lay all the ills of society at
the door of public education. Nor do we posit a "golden age"
of American public education—or American society—somewhere in the
past. Our contention is simply that a pedagogical policy which would
base moral instruction (and, as we shall see, "moral
instruction" is part of the public school program) on a purely
secularistic foundation must shoulder some of the blame for the problems
of the present. Public schools, along with many other social
institutions, are failing to instill in many young people the will to
behave in a morally good manner. We agree with the conclusion of a
specialist in educational research: "The inadequate moral code
taught in American elementary classrooms [and also, one might add, in
secondary classrooms and in higher education] is governed by custom and
the chance of history . . . Little is being done to affect it, and . . .
we need not, and dare not continue to ignore the matter in these violent
We emphasize again that we are not presenting an indictment of public
schools and public educators. They, too, are victims of the dilemma we
have described. Next we shall examine the responses which have been
attempted and see why, instead of relieving the situation, they help to
make it worse.
III. Some Approaches to the Problem
In a well-intentioned effort to fill the vacuum created by the
Supreme Court's decisions, many courses and programs have been
introduced into the public schools in recent years which bear in one way
or another upon religion and values. While these come in many different
forms and under many different names, they can be grouped in two large
categories: the "objective" study of religion; and programs
which deal indirectly or directly with moral values. Each approach not
only fails to meet the legitimate expectations and wishes of many
parents and students, but raises serious problems for religious belief
and religiously-based values.
1. The "objective study" of religion.
A number of different activities and programs fall under this
heading: courses intended to teach the history, beliefs and
contributions of particular religions without advocating any as true;
the study of religious thought, literature and art for their
intellectual or esthetic value, and similar programs. The purpose is
either to convey information about religion or to foster appreciation of
its nonreligious contributions, but not to advocate religious belief and
values. Since religion is part of our culture, it is said, it should be
part of any curriculum which aspires to give children a knowledge of
civilization. According to this view, religion may be treated as a
legitimate part of general secular knowledge.
The approach presents many difficulties. The desired neutrality may
not be realized, since what is required is not just neutrality of the
textbook—hard enough to achieve—but, more important, neutrality of
the instructor. With the best of intentions on the teacher's part, this
is exceedingly difficult. Much depends on emotions and personal
background, as well as knowledge. For a Catholic teacher in a public
school to "teach about" the origins of the Established Church
in England may prove no simple matter; or, if simple, controversial. It
would be difficult for an atheistic instructor to "teach
about" the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation with complete
neutrality. Nor can the conscience of the teacher in saying what he or
she believes true be ignored. It would be a grave burden on a Mennonite
teacher to require her to teach about the established churches of the
sixteenth century while refraining from condemning their persecutions of
A most serious difficulty of the "teaching about" concept
concerns the need not to teach that a particular doctrine or religion is
true. A child taught at home that his or her religion is true is exposed
in school to a "cafeteria" approach which simply omits the
question of truth. Many parents feel that this necessarily weakens the
child's belief and readily leads to religious relativism or
indifference. Furthermore, depending on his or her attitude and beliefs,
a teacher may quite unintentionally "teach about" theistic
religion but "teach" nontheistic religion. The de facto
result of a program of "teaching about" religion could be to
tell pupils in effect: "Here is what Catholicism is all about; here
is what Reformed Judaism is all about; here is what the Lutherans
believe. And here, in our course in democratic ethics, is what we do and
One writer speaks approvingly of public school instructors who
"will educate free minds who, on the one hand, appreciate the depth
of man's religious tradition, but to whom on the other hand, the old
denominational and dualistic conflicts appear secondary, if not
inhibitive to, the formation of a unifying world outlook."(8) This
is not an imaginary danger. Such an attitude can easily be conveyed even
by an instructor who is trying to be scrupulously neutral.
Apart from inherent dangers, such programs simply do not allow for
the teaching of theistic religion and religiously-based values,
something many parents deeply desire. They do not want their children
simply to hear that "religion is a good thing" or that
"we should all respect others' beliefs because all religions have
contributed to society." True as they may be, such impoverished
affirmations detract from the meaning and force of the religion they
believe and the values they cherish. There is a vast difference between
such weak affirmations and positive teaching that Jesus Christ is God,
or that man has an immortal soul, or that Saturday is the Sabbath, or
that heaven and hell exist, or that all men should be "born
again" through baptism.
Finally, it must be recognized that for some parents it is a cause
for legitimate concern that sacred things are taught under a secular
aspect. Some Protestant parents have objected that they do not wish
their children to be exposed to instruction in which the Bible is
treated merely as literature. The Bible is the Word of God; to approach
it simply as "literature" offends their understanding of what
the Bible really is, and such an offense perpetrated by public schools
to which they send their children and which they support by their taxes
is not something they are prepared to tolerate.
2. Programs which deal directly or indirectly with moral values.
Many different courses and programs also fall into one or the other
of these categories. It is not always possible to make a hard and fast
distinction between programs which deal "indirectly" with
moral values and those which do so "directly." In general,
however, programs which treat values "indirectly" do so
because their subject matter unavoidably raises values questions:
examples are courses in social studies, life sciences, literature, sex
education, by whatever name, and certain aspects of the guidance and
counseling programs. By contrast, other courses and programs
"directly" and explicitly deal with values themselves: these
include various "sensitivity" programs and programs of value
However one categorizes them and whatever name they are given,
throughout the nation, under all manner of different headings, programs
dealing with the most vital aspects of the moral life of children are
now part of the public school curriculum. Beyond question they have been
introduced and implemented with great good will on the part of public
educators, acting, in part at least, to fill the vacuum created by the
judicial exclusion of religion and religious values from public
education. In many cases they have done so in the belief that the
elimination of religion from the public school need not mean the loss of
the benefits claimed for religious practices and values in terms of
moral behavior—that the same benefits can still be achieved in other
ways. But such programs are themselves fraught with problems and
dangers, to the point where some now reasonably fear that the cure may
be worse than the disease.
A curriculum booklet for a suburban school district, describing a
course in "Prejudice," invites secondary students to "get
involved in nine weeks of interesting and enlightening discussion on the
various prejudices that rule our individual attitudes." A teacher's
handbook for another school district, describing a program called
"The Magic Circle," recommends such discussion-starters for
student groups as "It made me feel good when . . . and "I made
someone feel bad when I . . ." The objective of the program is said
to be "the development of skills in children needed for effective
personal adjustments, success in academic endeavors, and other life
No one quarrels with such purposes as helping children recognize and
overcome prejudice, achieve "effective personal adjustments,"
and so forth. But what exactly constitutes "prejudice"? What
is an effective personal adjustment? Ultimately, upon what value system
does the school or teacher rely to determine whether such courses and
programs are accomplishing their purposes?
A prominent exponent of value "clarification" writes:
"Value clarification involves a series of strategies which are not
guilty of forcing one set of right values down the throats of all
students . . . Every effort is made to be open-minded, accepting, and
tolerant, since this is the atmosphere in which we believe values can
grow."(9) We certainly are not in favor of forcing values down
children's throats. Nor can anyone object to an open-minded, accepting
and tolerant approach toward children. But is one to conclude that there
are no "right" values which children should be helped to learn
and make their own? Is one value system just as good as the next?
Whether this is or is not the case, is the teacher supposed to act as if
it were; and, if so, how is he or she supposed to achieve such
superhuman objectivity and detachment? If all value systems are not
equally acceptable, then we are back where we started. Ultimately, what
values are the "right" values which school and teacher propose
to instill in students? What if these values conflict with the
conscientiously held values of some students and parents? Subtly or not
so subtly, is a disapproved value system to be "clarified" out
of the minds and hearts of children by teacher and/or peer pressure?
And, if so, what is to take its place?
Many people reasonably fear that, given the present state of affairs,
the result of such courses and programs can easily be the inculcation of
secularistic values—and that this can happen without any specific
intention on the part of schools and teachers. Here, however, a
distinction must be made. To speak of the "inculcation of
secularistic values" suggests a conscious and deliberate effort.
But secularistic values may be imposed even in the absence of any
specific intent to do so. Indeed, much that is "secularistic"
would be considered by its exponents to be completely non-ideological,
in no sense a program for promoting anybody's values, but instead simple
secular knowledge: "the world as it is."
Courses in democratic ethics, sex education, value clarification and
the rest deal with matters of belief and conduct which have always been
properly considered to touch on profound areas of human life and which
inevitably raise questions of values. Yet, as matters now stand, there
are only three possibilities open to the public schools: first, that
through such courses and programs religious values are proposed to
students in violation of the law; second, that somehow or other no
particular values or value systems are proposed to students through such
courses and programs—which is doubtful, to say the least, and which
even if it is the case means that students are thereby being
indoctrinated in ethical relativism, the notion that one value system is
as good as another; and third, that secularistic values and a
secularistic philosophy are de facto being substituted in the
public school for the religious values and religious philosophy of the
majority of its children and their parents.
Parent protest concerning this situation has been unorganized and has
lagged behind the introduction of these momentous programs. Yet the
discontent of parents with what they perceive as a threat to the
religious and moral beliefs of their children is today surfacing in many
communities. With increasing insistence, parents complain of these
programs on grounds of religion, morality, privacy (in particular,
family privacy), and the intellectual liberty of the school child.
IV. Toward a Solution
For many parents these developments have created a crisis. Inflation
and rising taxation have increased their burden in carrying on private
education. The Supreme Court has ruled that only minimal public aid may
be provided to children attending religiously affiliated private
schools; and on principle a significant number of such schools would not
accept public aid in any event. Social and economic factors have
influenced more and more religious parents to send their children to
public schools. Neither in theory nor increasingly in practice is it
reasonable or responsible to say that parents who are troubled by the
situation can send their children to private schools.
Thus the dilemma of public education and student conscience has
become a matter of urgent personal concern for many responsible citizens
who are supportive of public education but aware that the solutions to
the dilemma attempted so far raise more questions than they answer and
create new problems and dangers. Many public educators share the
awareness that a serious problem exists and adequate means have not yet
been found to solve it.
We come, then, to an exploration of alternatives related to freedom
of religion and conscience in education. We offer these suggestions in
order to encourage constructive public discussion of the issues, leading
to solutions which respect the rights and meet the legitimate
expectations of all. These alternatives are by no means mutually
1. Increased awareness and collaboration among educators, parents and
This is a story which has no villains. The present situation was
thrust upon educators, parents and children, and the community at large
by circumstances over which they had little or no control. Yet the
dilemma has the potential for polarizing the community and exacerbating
tensions; indeed, it is already doing so. Parents' indignation can
foster intransigence on the part of the educators; educators'
intransigence can feed the indignation of parents. We face the danger of
a deteriorating situation which will result in injury to all concerned.
One essential answer lies in heightened mutual sensitivity to the
problem and in collaborative efforts to work out equitable solutions. A
number of practical steps can and should be taken immediately to bring
Educational policy makers and administrators, teachers and future
teachers should be sensitized to the delicacy of the freedom of
conscience issue. Developing sensitivity to these issues should be part
of teacher preparation programs and inservice programs. Teachers and
administrators must be constantly aware of their high responsibility to
deal respectfully with pupils from diverse backgrounds and value systems
in the context of a pluralistic society. It must be frankly recognized
that not every teacher is automatically equipped to deal with values
questions and value related courses and programs. Teachers should
receive specific training for this task, and their performance should be
monitored and evaluated.
Parents, educators, political leaders, young people and the community
at large should also systematically be made aware of the importance and
delicacy of the "values" question in public education. Candid
discussion and careful study of the issues should be encouraged.
Parents and community leaders, including representatives of the
churches and synagogues, should be directly and collaboratively involved
with professional educators on the local level in the development and
assessment of value-oriented curricula and courses. The participation of
parents and religious representatives should be thorough, commencing at
the very start of the process by which such programs are planned and
continuing through all stages of implementation and evaluation. It
should also be authentic: token participation will not suffice. The
school is a community institution, and the entire community should have
an active role in what it does.
Parents and the community at large should be encouraged to take a
sympathetic and supportive attitude toward the sincere efforts of public
educators to deal with the dilemma they face. While educators must be
responsive to the reasonable desires of citizens, the latter should
recognize the problems of educators and support them in their efforts to
find responsible solutions through dialogue and collaboration.
Negatively, it must be insisted that moral and ethical issues of a
highly controversial nature should simply not be treated by public
school teachers, or should be treated only with extreme sensitivity.
There is a grave danger that, in dealing with such issues, violence will
be done to the convictions and rights of some individuals and groups.
Examples of such issues are abortion, euthanasia, birth control, and
various solutions to the population problem. Some will object that such
a prescription will prevent public schools from dealing directly with
some of the pressing issues of the day. This is true. But the practical
alternative is to involve the public school in advocacy, subtle or
overt, of moral and ethical positions which some of its constituents
will inevitably find obnoxious. In these circumstances it is better for
the public school to leave instruction in such matters to parents and
2. Exemption from programs on grounds of free exercise of religion.
Some religious parents may be willing to accept a degree of
secularistic environment in the school as part of the price they must
pay for "free" public education. Even so, equity demands that
everything possible be done to reduce the imposition on them and their
children. Specifically, the public schools should make provision to
exempt pupils from programs to which they or their parents object on
religious and moral grounds.
Parents and pupils should be given clear notice of this option. The
exemption procedure should be simple and effective, so as to cause the
least possible embarrassment to parent and child.
Exemption is, however, a less than satisfactory solution, which we
propose only as a short-range, interim measure to reduce the most
objectionably coercive features of the present situation. Testimony in
some court cases involving sex education has made it clear that a child
whose parents seek exemption may be regarded as odd or abnormal by other
children. In a recent case a father testified that his daughter had been
"ridiculed for the fact that my wife and I will not let her take
the (sex education) course." The Supreme Court acknowledged this
problem almost 30 years ago.
"That a child is offered an alternative [exemption or excusal]
may reduce the constraint; it does not eliminate the operation of
influence by the school in matters sacred to conscience and outside the
school's domain. The law of imitation operates, and nonconformity is not
an outstanding characteristic of children. The result is an obvious
pressure upon children to attend . . . As a result, the public school
system . . . actively furthers inculcation in the religious tenets of
some faiths, and in the process sharpens the consciousness of religious
differences at least among some of the children committed to its
In short, exemption can only be regarded as a palliative in the
absence of a better solution. If even this palliative is lacking,
however, it seems inevitable that confrontations and court tests will
grow in number and intensity. No one desires this outcome, yet it will
be unavoidable if conscientious parents have no other recourse.
Taxpayers' money and the public school system may not be used to impose
the establishment of a religion of secularism. Those who may question
the use of the word "religion" to describe secularism should
recall that secular humanism has been strictly defined by the Supreme
Court as a religion within the meaning of the religion clauses of the
First Amendment."(11) If parents who hold the beliefs and values of
theistic religion are offered no reasonable alternative by the public
schools, it is predictable that they will press this issue to the utmost
through litigation. If it comes to that, schools, parents, children and
the community at large all stand to suffer.
3. Expanded options in publicly-sponsored education.
In recent years a variety of proposals have been advanced and in some
cases adopted to give parents and children who desire educational
programs not ordinarily available in the public school an opportunity to
exercise their freedom of choice and obtain access to such education.
Among the means of accomplishing this are community schools, alternate
schools and educational vouchers. Underlying such programs is the
realization that "publicly sponsored education" is a broader
term than "public schools "that the public schools in their
present form do not exhaust the possibilities of realizing the American
commitment to publicly-sponsored education.(12)
As a longer-range solution to the dilemma we have discussed here, the
possibility should now be explored of making similar educational options
available to parents and children who object to the exclusion of
theistic religion from public education and the substitution of
secularism, and who desire a form of schooling which respects and
supports their religious beliefs and moral values. While aid to
church-related schools (and parents and children who patronize them) is
one obvious way of doing this, the question is raised here in a
different context, that of publicly sponsored education itself.
Specifically, the question is whether a creative approach to
publicly-sponsored education could allow for alternate schools or
programs which meet the reasonable desires and expectations of religious
parents and their children.
Serious consideration should be given to restructuring public schools
and their curricula and staff arrangements so that pupils in a given
school could take most of their courses in common, while value-oriented
subject areas were taught by independent contractor teachers from the
religious or ideological communities of particular students.
Participation in such instruction should be purely voluntary, and
safeguards should be devised to prevent discrimination, coercion, or
lf such instruction were available in public schools, the situation
would be very different factually from the situation which now exists
with regard to, say, sex education courses, where we have argued that
exempting pupils is at best a necessary palliative with undesirable
features. In the former case, we are proposing the availability of many
different instructional options, none taught by public school teachers,
from among which pupils could choose or not as they wished. In the
latter case, there is only one program of instruction, offered in the
classroom by a public school teacher; the only alternative (and even
that may be lacking) is nonparticipation in something in which all or
most other pupils are participating. Coercion and embarrassment of the
student are inherent in the latter situation, but can easily be avoided
in the system we suggest.
It may be objected that "church-state separation" bars such
a possibility. But "separation" should not be a shibboleth
which prevents the discussion of new ideas or the revival of useful
ideas from the past. There may indeed be constitutional problems with
such an approach; if so, there may also be solutions to the problems. We
will not know unless we make the effort to find out.
Educational alternatives have already been developed within public
school systems. Some believe that this is the wave of the future in
public education. Our suggestion is merely that ways be explored by
which religious parents and students can be added to the list of those
for whom alternatives in public education are offered. To argue that the
Constitution bars them from consideration would smack of precisely that
discrimination on religious grounds which the Constitution is intended
4. Released time religious education in the public school.
Although concern over the exclusion of religion from the public
school has tended to focus on the Supreme Court's "prayer" and
"Bible reading" decisions, these to a great extent merely
confirmed a process initiated in 1948 by the court's McCollum
decision.(13) In that ruling the court held it unconstitutional for
children to receive religious instruction on public school premises
during periods when they were "released" from required public
Efforts have been made to compensate by conducting "released
time" religion programs outside the public school. The Supreme
Court affirmed the constitutionality of this approach in 1951 in the Zorach
decision.(14) But programs of this nature have generally proved to be
inadequate. Beside serious practical difficulties of scheduling and
transportation, "released time" programs away from the public
school have the effect of compartmentalizing religion and relegating
religious instruction to a small and inadequate portion of the child's
total school time.
It is necessary to return released time religious instruction to the
public school. Either through constitutional amendment or preferably
through a new decision of the Supreme Court, McCollum must be
overruled in order to open the public school to an equitable and
rational recognition of religious and moral liberty. The nearly three
decades which have passed since McCollum give ample evidence that
the original ruling was a mistake which should be speedily corrected.
This is perhaps the most positive and realistic approach to the
dilemma of student conscience and public education available in present
circumstances. In this way the public school will be able to satisfy the
legitimate desire of parents and students that religious education and
formation in religiously based moral values be part of children's
educational experience, without infringing on the rights of any
individual or group and without usurping educational functions which
properly belong to other agencies. Students, parents, educators and the
community at large will benefit. We propose therefore that urgent
attention be given to ways of bringing about a result which will be to
the advantage of all and the disadvantage of none.
We do not suggest that an equitable solution to the dilemma discussed
here is simple. In a pluralistic society such as ours, questions
involving religious conviction and moral values are inevitably complex
and difficult to resolve. The matter is even more difficult when such
questions are raised in the sensitive and often controversial context of
public education. Yet a "solution" which ignores the problem
or favors the convictions, beliefs and values of some at the expense of
others is no solution at all.
We conclude these reflections as we began: by urging all concerned
parties—policy makers, administrators and teachers in public
education, parents, public officials, religious and civic leaders, and
others—to come together in dialogue concerning the dilemma. Our own
suggestions have been proposed for study and discussion. We welcome the
response of others who share our perception that a serious problem now
exists but may see other solutions to it. It is our hope and our prayer
that the effort to find solutions will draw all elements of our
community closer together and foster commitment to a strengthened system
of public education in our state and our nation.
- The literature on this subject is voluminous. As an example one
may cite the statement of Horace Mann that "by the term
education I mean such a culture of our moral affections and
religious sensibilities, as in the course of nature and Providence
shall lead to a subjection and conformity of all our appetites,
propensities, and sentiments to the Will of Heaven." V. 2 Life
and Works of Horace Mann, (5 Vols.) (Boston, Mass., Lee and
Shepard, 1891), p. 144.
- Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534 (1925).
- Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1961); School District of
Abington Township v. Schmepp, Murray v. Curlett, 374 U.S.
- Although the judicial exclusion of religious values from public
education is emphasized, the problem is broader than the court
decisions. Arguments put forward for a "prayer and/or bible
reading" amendment have much to recommend them; yet it is
apparent that such an amendment would not by itself solve the
problem of the dominance of secularistic values in public education.
- Religion and Public Education, A Statement of Views,
(American Jewish Committee, New York, 1969) p. 6.
- e.g., the recent textbook controversy in West Virginia, the
nationwide concern about the MACOS program that the National Science
Foundation developed, the protest of the American Civil Liberties
Union and others about the Educational Quality Assessment Program in
Pennsylvania, the growth of Fundamentalist and other independent
schools generally, etc.
- Arthur W. Foshay, "The Moral Code of Children and Teacher
Education," Approaches to Education for Character:
Strategies for Change in Higher Education, Clarence H. Faust and
Jessica Feingold, eds., (New York, Columbia University Press, 1969),
- Paul A. Freund and Robert Ulich, Religion and the Public
Schools, (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1965) p.
- Sidney B. Simon, "Seven Value-Clarifying Strategies for
Teachers," Values and Youth, Robert D. Barr, Ed.,
(Washington, National Council for the Social Studies, 1971) pp.
- Illinois ex. rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S.
203, 227 (1948).
- Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).
- Public schools are merely one means of accomplishing "public
education," an educational endeavor that is supported or
fostered by public funds. Certainly there are publicly funded
educational programs that differ substantially from public schools
as they are currently structured—for example, community
educational work—experience programs.
- McCollum, Supra, at 227.
- Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (151).
Used with permission of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference