Restoring the Value(s) of Religion in American Public Education

in Stephen Pickard, Michael Welker, and John Witte, Jr. eds., The Impact of Education on Character Formation, Ethical Education, and the Communication of Values in Late Modern Pluralistic Societies (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH, 2022), 89-106

CSLR Research Paper No. 20.2022-AFF

17 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2022

Date Written: 2022

Abstract

The United States today offers public state-run schools; private (religious) schools; and various forms of home schools and experimental charter and magnet schools. Until the 1940s, individual states largely governed American schooling, taking various approaches to the place of religion and morality in public schools and the role of government in religious schools. Since the 1940s, the U.S. Supreme Court has read the First Amendment Establishment Clause repeatedly to hold that religious teachers, prayers, texts, and symbols are not permitted in the public-school classroom and curriculum, or even at one-time public-school events like graduation ceremonies. Voluntary private religious expressions and associations may be allowed when there are equivalent voluntary private secular counterparts, and so long as no faculty participate. This deprecation of religion in public school education, however, has impoverished the moral values education and character formation of American public school students, and it has stunted some of the very democratic values and abilities that the country and Court are trying to instill and protect in each new generation. It has deprived students of their ability to develop healthy democratic habits of understanding and engaging a variety of forms of religious experience. It has fostered the false idea that religion and faith are only for the private and voluntary sphere, while value-free reason and morally neutral logic are the only valuable currency of public debate and political life. After surveying the Supreme Court’s case law on point, this chapter argues that American students need to witness and study religions and the moral and value systems that they offer, for better or worse.

Keywords: American schools, First Amendment, Establishment Clause, religious education, moral formation, public schools, religious schools, prayer in schools

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Restoring the Value(s) of Religion in American Public Education (2022). in Stephen Pickard, Michael Welker, and John Witte, Jr. eds., The Impact of Education on Character Formation, Ethical Education, and the Communication of Values in Late Modern Pluralistic Societies (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH, 2022), 89-106, CSLR Research Paper No. 20.2022-AFF, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4133872 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4133872

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

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