On Fox News I recently learned that the school district in Kern County, California was holding a vote on whether or not to strip away copies of the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights from school classrooms because they contained references to religion and God. While most people probably raised an eyebrow at this, it got me think. Has our determination to keep religion and spirituality out of the public sector come so far that our nation’s founding documents stand to lose their place in history?
Conservatives may or may not be alone in their displeasure at daily news stories of religion being pushed out of the classroom and out of the public arena, whether it is in the Christmas wars that sizzle to the surface every winter or the removal of religious documents from government building? So I must ask: What is so awfully wrong about spirituality in schools?
The situation in Kern County is a case in point. It turns out the school board voted four to one for the posters of historical documents to remain, with the one dissenter arguing that the posters promoted a “spiritual agenda.” The phrase “In God We Trust” and our nation’s founding documents are not only important pieces of our history but have been a moral presence in our society that has brought peace of mind and security to generations of Americans. Striking God and spirituality in general, out of the classroom is being ignorant of religion’s impact on history and our country.
It was the second great awakening of religion in the United States that fueled a burst of construction of hospitals and halfway houses. The third great awakening started the progressive movement that liberalized the tax system and moved America further forward. In the midst of the fear of replacement of democracy with communism in the 1950s, Americans united with courage under the phrase “In God We Trust,” a phrase that filled us with pride in our past and inspirationally reminded us of the goodwill and charity towards all that we strive for.
In our darkest hours, spirituality has been a source of strength for Americans. Especially in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, prayer vigils and the national anthem put lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes but gave us the courage to move forward. And yet the far political left, aided in part by the American Civil Liberties Union, has been stubbornly consistent with pushing religion out of everyday life, whether it be in schools or in stores or during government events.
Physics teachers cannot enter into deep, philosophical discussions with students about spirituality without the threat of being sued for promoting religion in the classroom. History teachers cannot delve into the impact of God on American progress, and schools cannot conduct prayers before high school football games or for sick friends, without having similar fears of repercussions.
Ironically, in the pursuit of justice and unbiased free learning, the exact opposite is being created, with a state that prohibits the discussion or mention of religion even in the name of education. Are debates about philosophy our origins and spirituality not the keys to a true, deep, meaningful education that widens our mind and opens us up to new ideas? We must also not forget that the free exchange of ideas also happens to be the foundation of democracy.
I’m not advocating the creation of a theocracy, in which discussion of God and the Bible are mandated and taught as fact. It is not necessary for creationism to be taught in science classes, nor for the Old Testament to be used as a textbook. By spirituality, I dt not mean a Christian oriented worldview. Spirituality is simply the acknowledgment of religion and its impact on private and public life. I don’t want any discussion of spirituality that cannot include Jews and Hindus and Muslims and all of the other religions that add to the rich diversity of America. That too would be contrary to the ideals of America’s creation, a society of open thought and freedom of opinion. I applaud liberals for trying to upkeep this kind of democracy where the American people have the freedom to choose what they want to believe.
In that same spirit, we should not be afraid of spirituality in the classroom, as if it is some cardinal sin to be avoided at all costs. Instead, students should be made aware of the impact it has had on our history, and its presence should be encouraged – when the light of spirituality in America goes out, we will truly be engulfed in dark times.
The writer is a freshman majoring in political science.