Religious Actions in the Classroom

Discussion in 'Debate & Marathon Threads Archive' started by callmebob, Apr 25, 2011.

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  1. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    I will preface this by saying, I would prefer it to stick to opinions and comments as to what you would or would not do in your own classroom.

    The last discussion turned more religious based and I understand that can quite often be a heated topic, but we can continue to be respectful of one another.

    I do not have very many religious actions in my classroom, but I do tend to throw up a prayer or two every once in a while. My students may see me make the action where I put my hands together and say a silent prayer (not often, but occasionally). Sometimes it is done in fun and sometimes in a serious manner.
    My students know that I believe in God, and they know that I go to church, so they are not at all suprised to see these actions.

    I would also believe that what you say and how you act in this regard could be different based on the demographics of the students you work with. I know in my area there is a significant amount of students who attend church, so parent issues with this would be much less likely.
     
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  3. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I don't do religious things in general, so I don't do them in my classroom either.

    I think that it sets a dangerous precedent and can create an unpleasant classroom climate for kids in your class who worship/celebrate differently or not at all. Just because most of the class worships/celebrates in the same way doesn't make it acceptable to passively exclude others in the class. I think that personal displays of religious worship/celebration should be done on your own time, at lunch, on prep, or before or after school, or should be done in such a way as to be undetectable by others.

    This assumes that the teacher is in a public school. Obviously, I'd be completely okay with religious displays in a private school affiliated with a particular religion.
     
  4. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    If my students ask (and they often do because we're in the South) what religion I am, I tell them that I am an atheist. Many of them have been raised to believe that atheists are amoral and evil, and I think it's important for them to see that I am a responsible, compassionate, honest, kind, law-abiding citizen without the influence of religion. I'm "good without god" as the saying goes.

    I don't go into specifics as to why I feel the way I do, and I won't engage in any arguments about religion. I simply state that I do not believe in any supreme being or higher power.
     
  5. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    I do nothing religious in my classroom because I'm not a religious person. When it boils down to it, I am likely an atheist, but I don't tell students this. My religious beliefs are my own, and not relevant to my classroom teaching. If students ask, I simply tell them "I'm not religious", and leave it at that.

    That said, as a world history teacher, I teach about close to a dozen different religious beliefs in the classroom. We discuss the major world religions, plus what a variety of different ancient civilizations believe. It's fun stuff to discuss, and actually where my own personal beliefs came out of. After completing my degree in history, and then going on to read a plethora of Ancient History books, I really started to question myself. Essentially, it came down to a single question for me... "If every single one of these civilizations was convinced that their religious beliefs were correct, how can we in the modern world be so sure of our own, while completely dismissing others?"

    That comes up quite a bit in my classroom, but I typically let the students run that discussion themselves, and merely moderate to keep them from getting nasty. It works out nicely, and is usually quite a good intellectual debate (well... as good as high school kids can get).
     
  6. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    I say prayers without the students' knowledge, without the knowledge of fellow shoppers at the grocery store, or anyone else for that matter. We have a moment of silence each day and I use that time.

    The students can see a cross ring that I wear. Other than that, if they have no idea what the cross means, they would have no idea of my religion.
     
  7. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    My students mention God, Jesus, church, and religion in general on a somewhat regular basis. We've also had religious-laced programs at school. For example, our choir performed hymns about Jesus and we've had a guest speaker speak heavily about God.

    When you are religious, I don't feel you can easily switch that off simply because you enter a public school building—adult or child. Even though I do not at all consider myself religious any longer, my raising is still a huge part of me. I still value my religious upbringing, and even though I've largely abandoned it, it's still a part of me. I actually feel a lot of pressure to "be religious" despite no longer being so because it seems everyone else is. Many of my students expect it.

    Because I'm always very honest with my students, I don't offer many of my personal opinions any longer as they wouldn't understand or approve. Besides, I haven't figured out quite where I stand anyhow!
     
  8. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    I keep all religion out of the classroom. I do practice and pray at home, but not in the school. My students often want to say a pray, but I don't get involved. If my students start talking religion as part of class, the conversation quickly changes to include your beliefs.
     
  9. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    I could probably say the prayers that I do without the students knowing, but I think most of the time it is intentional that they see. I don't see it as pressing my beliefs on them, but I want students to see it and be aware of it.
    In the end, if after years of teaching and hundreds of students coming through my classroom, my rare prayers positively impact even one student, it would be well worth it to me.
     
  10. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    I do nothing religious in the classroom (other than other occasionally muttered, "Lord, grant me patience...)

    But I base this on an incident in HS, where my history teacher basically blasted Catholics for not being "real" Christians and proceeded to list the many, many perceived flaws of the religion and practitioners. As I was a very active Catholic, I was deeply offended by her rant and promised myself I'd never, ever make anyone feel that their own religion (or lack of) was some sort of inherent character flaw.

    We do occasionally hit the topic of religion when I teach creation mythology... I just tell the kids we're studying creation stories that ancient people used to believe in and that we will not be discussing our personal beliefs. I've only had one or two issues in the four years I've done the unit.
     
  11. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    I'm not a very religious person, so I don't do any religious acts in the classroom.
     
  12. porque_pig

    porque_pig Comrade

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    I'm a fairly religious person, but I don't bring faith into the classroom even though I currently teach at a religious university. I hope to teach at a public school next year, and I will also try to stay away from religious talk unless it is specifically related to what is being covered in class. I haven't ever been asked about my faith by a student, though--I'm still not sure how I would respond, but I suspect that I would be honest and brief and just move on from there.
     
  13. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I just remembered that my students begged me to read from the Bible today (one is in the classroom library)! Weird, huh? I guess because Easter was yesterday? We were having to wait a few minutes before beginning class and they kept giving me verses to read. When I dismissed them because I was busy taking care of the issue at hand, they just started reciting the lines aloud.
     
  14. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    I think that is outstanding. I know many of my students read the Bible at home. I would love to see them bring it to school and read it there.
     
  15. LUCHopefulTeach

    LUCHopefulTeach Habitué

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    Hopefully Level Headed Response:
    I think the extent of religion that is permitted in a classroom may be regional. I know where I live there is a very thick line separating church and state. I follow that line and don't know a single teacher that doesn't. I've heard of some who do and they face complaints by other staff members and parents.

    I think it's important while we are discussing this to mention tolerance and acceptance. I live in a much more diverse area where it's common to have children from different races, cultures, religions, etc in the same classroom. Allowing or teaching or promoting one religion isn't appropriate in that situation when you have others who do not feel the same way. In the same token, even if you have an entire class of students who are all from the same race, culture, religion, etc you may not truly know one students belief where yet again it would be inappropriate.

    I understand that people will have their personal beliefs and some may think it's perfectly acceptable to talk in a public school. However, there are laws and policies about this for a reason.

    Personal Opinion:
    I don't have children yet but if my child came home and said that his/her teacher read to them from the bible... I would be livid.
     
  16. timsterino

    timsterino Comrade

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    As a public school teacher, religion has absolutely no place in my classroom and for that reason alone, it remains out.

    As a parent, if my child's teacher brought religion into the classroom (other than in a proper historical context), I would complain to the administration at my child's school.
     
  17. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    Very well stated LUC, I doubt I would ever read to students from the Bible at school, unless society were to change a little or there was a teaching based reason for it (specific to the curriculum).
    Students reading the Bible themselves, I would be happy if that happened though. I would not make them put it away and read something else.
     
  18. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    But that creates the question; what would you consider a teacher bringing religion into the classroom?
     
  19. teach'ntx

    teach'ntx Comrade

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    I have very religious students from multiple religions. Due to this, I do nothing religious and try to reduce the religion talk in my classroom. My class is not at the age or maturity to have these discussions. I even had one student who was mad say "I hate those Chrisitans, except for you Ms....." under his breath. Luckily, I was the only one who heard it and adressed it with him and his parents in a manner that has kept it from coming up again. This is one of the reasons I keep my beliefs and those of my students out of the classroom.
     
  20. timsterino

    timsterino Comrade

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    Preaching about their god or even any god. If I was an atheist parent, I would not want that. If I was a Jewish parent and my child was exposed to the New Testament I would have a problem with that. Any mention of the bible (in any capacity other than a historical context) is wrong in a public school classroom.
     
  21. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    Okay, I just wanted to make sure there was clarity on what you were saying.

    I make sure I do not preach to my students, I do answer questions about myself if they come to me with them.
     
  22. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    We talk a lot about religion, primarily because you can't address American history without it.

    But I'm not religious, and most of my students are not religious. Many of them come from religious minorities (both Christian and others - Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and possibly others that I don't know about), so they are interested in the role of religion in American culture.

    Our school offers a course in world religions as well as a course in ethics. So students read philosophy, religious texts, and religious history pretty regularly. I consider it a bonus, because they bring that education into my classroom. I need them to understand the Puritans, evangelical reform movements, the Social Gospel, black Christianity, etc.
     
  23. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I'm assuming you read that I didn't, yes? It was random, not at all relating to what we were about to work on. Again, I think they still had Easter in their system. :)

    But I have in the past in order to help students better understand a reference in a book we were reading. It took all of forty-five seconds and shed light on the the text's reference to a particular verse. I had to look it up to explain it because I didn't understand it myself. I don't feel it was at all inappropriate.

    You are right in that there are regional differences. Again, my school has had several religious programs. We do have some diversity in religion, but there hasn't been a complaint that I'm aware of it. I'm not saying that means the programs are ethically or legally sound (especially because many students wouldn't speak up if they were offended knowing they were one of ten kids in the school who didn't share similar beliefs).
     
  24. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Interesting topic! Most of my students are extremely religious. Many of them are immigrants from the same small town in Mexico and they are very hardcore Catholics. In fact, many of them go to church every single night (and I thought I was raised religious!) In my reading groups, I let each student share one thing before we get started so they can get it out of their system and then they know that we have to talk about reading for the rest of the time. A lot of them will share "I went to church last night" or something similar. I don't have a problem with that. I try to make sure my response doesn't share an opinion either way. We also have "community traits" at my school such as trustworthiness, courage, etc. that students are supposed to follow. When discussing these at the beginning of the year, many teachers were upset that students kept raising their hand and saying things like "You have to trust in God so that you can go to heaven." I think this creates an awkward situation. I don't want the student to feel bad, but on the other hand we're not really supposed to allow religious talk in the classroom. I usually say something along the lines of we're not allowed to talk about what we learn at church at school, but I sometimes still feel like I might be offending the student. Obviously, I don't bring up my religion or do anything religious in the classroom. If a student asks, I simply tell them I'm not supposed to talk about that in school. I have one student in particular that is extremely religious and will often end up mentioning God in his writing prompts. If it's just something he's writing individually for an assignment, I don't have a problem with it. Of course, I'd let a student of a different religion write about whatever they believe also.
     
  25. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    I am an atheist. I agree with the previous poster who said I think it is important for students to see that atheists are moral, good people and not some demon-worshipping psychopaths as they are often perceived to be. So I will tell them if they ask, but they rarely do.

    It is impossible to not bring up religion in a literature class. There are so many references to it in literature. Much of the early British literature that I teach in 12th grade is Christian propaganda. It is important that students understand that if they are to understand the literature. But I treat it all as just that - literature.

    I don't think any religious act done by the teacher in front of the students is appropriate, especially when you are doing it so they intentionally see you.
     
  26. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    We talk about religion as it relates to the film industry, particular movies, etc. For example, in order to understand some of the imagery in Fritz Lang's Metropolis students would need to have some understanding of a few things from the Bible and other myths, so I had to explain about the Whore of Babylon, and tower of Babel, and Moloch and a few other more obscure references. The movie just doesn't make as much sense if you don't know those things. Of course, we also learned about the movie in relation to Queen, Lady Gaga, and Madonna, so clearly we did not have an overtly religious purpose.

    If I were religious, I would not practice my religion in my classroom. If I had students who wanted to read the Bible or pray (silently) or discuss their religion in a non-hateful way, I would let them do that. I have had students in the past who needed to leave class three minutes early in order to make it to an empty classroom to pray, and I had no problem with that. I will make reasonable accommodations so that others feel comfortable practicing their religions, but it's not my place to push my faith (or lack thereof) on students. I do think it's good that they see myself and other not-very-religious people being good people. It's a common misconception that we are not.
     
  27. Vicky

    Vicky Rookie

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    I do sometimes but keeping this thing in the mind that may be someone here in the class belongs to different belief. I think to teach the ethical and moral values in the class with techniques and techonologies is also important.
     
  28. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    There is no place in my classroom for theology. As is, I redid our grade's poetry selections to remove the ones that were heavily Christian in theme. My Muslim students weren't insulted or alienated by them, but they had a tougher time than their Christian counterparts trying to understand them. To explain the themes in the poems would have crossed a line I preferred to simply erase.
     
  29. Rox

    Rox Cohort

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    Last year, as I waited to board a plane at the airport, I saw a man pull out a rug and say several prayers while kneeling on the rug, bowing, and standing up. I was fascinated by his actions, and I feel terrible that I am ignorant about what religion he was practicing or anything else about it. His actions didn't bother me, and I wish I had been exposed to this kind of behavior more as a child.

    I would hope that if a person was praying next to my child, no matter what religion, that my child would be able to tolerate it and even learn from the experience. I also hope that if my child felt the need to pray, they would be allowed to do it quietly in a location that they prefer. Just because it is a school environment doesn't make it any different from any other environment we are in.
     
  30. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    Rox, sounds as though the man was Muslim. The prayers in that religion are quite beautiful.
     
  31. kpa1b2

    kpa1b2 Aficionado

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    The closest I get to religion in the classroom is at Christmas. It usually comes up in the form of Christmas trees. I explain that not every one believes the same way. It's enough for my kinders. :D

    This year, at my school, we did a Christmas Around the World theme, where everyone decorating their doors to represent a different country or religion. My TA is Jewish so we went with a Hanukkah theme.
     
  32. tchr4evr

    tchr4evr Companion

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    I'm glad you've had this experience. I also teach in the Southern section of the country, and I've had parents have issue with the fact that I am an atheist. I've even been called into a conference about it. Although my principal stated that it had nothing to do with anything, since we're a public school, this parent pursued the issue and eventually used it against me. I have learned not to mention it at all, it's just safer that way.

    Where I get the most flack is when I am teaching a text that discusses God, such as Milton's Paradise Lost, and I know more about the Bible than many of my Christian students-and invariably it comes up, so they want to know how I can teach it if I don't beleive it. I simply state that I see it as literature, not as religion.
     
  33. Securis

    Securis Cohort

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    The other day...

    I'm not a terribly religious person nor do I bring up the topic of my beliefs but sometimes in my class we have to address beliefs. It's art after all and in history religion and art have gone hand in hand mostly exclusively up until modern times when more efficient media evolved to disseminate the message allowing art the freedom to evolve in more secular terms. Kids ask questions, I answer them honestly if I can. Usually, I say something like, "Some people believe x,y,z. You and your parents might believe differently. I'm not telling you what you should believe so you should probably ask your parents. This is just what some people believe."

    Okay, back to my story. The other day, I was having a really difficult time with this one class of sixth graders talking way too much about nothing to do with what I needed them to do. It's actually two homerooms at once because my P needed some way to balance the activity schedule so viola. I live in the South so Christianity is not only tolerated in some schools but sometimes promoted to a degree. I have my beliefs which I tend to keep to myself but on this day I had had my limit of pre-adolescent gossip. I looked up and lifted one hand to the sky and said loudly, "Lord. Lord? Can you please quiet these children for me? I'm loosing my patience and we need to get some work done today. Thank you."

    Do you know what? That worked just long enough for me to get my instructions out and in totality they remained a bit below my noise threshold for independent work for the rest of the period. They talked of course but with less volume.
     
  34. 3Sons

    3Sons Connoisseur

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    Well, it can. At least from the teacher's perspective.

    When a teacher or an adult with power over students engages in religious activity in front of a captive audience of students, it is different from you seeing a Moslem fellow traveler engaging in prayers before a flight.

    The teachers should not be engaging in religious activity, but the students may. Not only can they include religious sentiment in their work or read the Bible on their discretionary time, they can even try to actively convert their fellow students as long as it doesn't rise to the level of harassment or bullying. callmebob, praying intentionally so your students can see it is very dubious.

    Some of you note that you have very religious students. This is fine, and it might mean you're less likely to be called on violations (though, keep in mind that a lot of the issues around Bible study classes in public schools don't involve resistance by the nonreligious, but by different factions of Christians). It does not, however, make any violations any more legal. Even if all your students were Christian, it would still be illegal to preach to them. The regional difference that exists is largely a difference in whether you get caught.

    ETA: Actually, I should modify this a bit -- there may be at any time questions that have not been addressed by the Supreme Court. Appellate courts may then reach differing opinions, and to this extent there can be regional differences in effective law.
     
  35. RyanS

    RyanS Rookie

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    I am very devout Christian (in the process of enrolling in seminary to take online classes until I'm married and we can move off). As an earlier poster said, it is near impossible to "turn it off" in the classroom. I have a shelf full of Christian books in my classroom (mostly apologetic in nature) as well as a Bible or two. If there is downtime in class, students will frequently notice me reading my Bible. They will also ask questions that I gladly answer. Outside of lecture, there have been a number of times where students have asked me theological questions which I have answered without hesitation. I am also a Youth for Christ cosponsor and speak frequently at school Bible studies before or after school. Students have no doubt where I stand on religious matters.

    However, I do not cross the line of inappropriate action. I do not "preach" to students in class. I do not bring up religious topics during class discussion. If a student asks a theological question, I answer it concisely and objectively (for the most part). Also, I am in a small country school in Texas. I would say 99% of the students at our school are Christian (or at least claim to be). The remaining 1% simply have no interest in Christianity or are outright atheists. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a single student at our school that has a religious affiliation other than Christian. All of our high school faculty are also Christian.
     
  36. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Apr 26, 2011

    Very helpful post, 3Sons. Here is something I've been wrestling with in this whole conversation of church vs. state. I don't think that the constitution meant for "freedom of religion" to mean that we should hide religion and avoid the subject at all costs - not referring to teaching it as world religion, but in terms of expressing our viewpoints. However, I see what you are saying about the teacher being in a position of substantial power and influence, and even the teacher simply expressing his/her own opinion could be construed by students as promotion, and it is ultimately not the teacher's intention which should be considered, but the effect on the student. Even if the teacher means to harm or oppression, in other words, it could still occur. Because the teacher is in a position of power of influence, even having a stack of Christian books in the classroom, without any mention of them, could make someone from an opposing faith or without faith feel uncomfortable.

    Are the positions you mentioned supported by case law, or your own interpretation?
     
  37. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    As someone who was a religious minority in my public elementary school and was taken to task for it by my peers (often with the full support of their parents), I was comforted by my teachers keeping religion out of the class. While my classmates told me I was going to roast for killing their Savior (I'm serious and I was five when that started), my Judaism was rarely mentioned by my teachers.

    There was, however, one glaring exception. In third grade, I was permitted to give a puppet show performance to explain the holiday of Purim. To this day, I think that was an incorrect choice of my teacher. It set me apart as an "other", which I was anyway for being weird enough to put on puppet shows in front of my class. It also went against that wall between scholarship and faith.

    Public school should be about school. Keep it secular. If you want to talk about comparative apocryphal eschatology, I love those kinds of discussions, but not during English or any other public school class.
     
  38. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    Apr 26, 2011

    But don't you think that by having a shelf full of Christian books, and reading from the bible during classtime, you are clearly showing support for a single religion in your room? Further, you might be making that 1% (or whatever it may be) of students extremely uncomfortable. I too went to a school where the vast majority (in the 90%'s) were Christian, but I was not. My 9th grade math teacher kept a bible on his desk, read it during downtime (not out loud), and made frequent references to Christian holidays and biblical verses/phrases in class. He too would answer theological questions if kids asked... during class time. In fact, often kids would tell him something they learned in science or history, and he would provide a Christian refutation for it.

    I specifically remember a kid asking about a world history lesson, because they had learned about the Greeks and the Romans. This teacher spent several minutes explaining how the Greeks and the Romans had "great stories, but it's not real like Christianity is". Now, I don't personally believe in Zeus either, but I felt terribly awkward, and felt as though (mind you, I was 14) this teacher wouldn't like me if he found out I wasn't Christian. I spent the entire school year hoping he never found out..... :eek:
     
  39. Rox

    Rox Cohort

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    Apr 26, 2011

    Does this mean teachers should not be leading students in singing Christmas songs? Conducting Easter egg hunts? Exchanging Valentine's Day cards?
     
  40. RyanS

    RyanS Rookie

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    Apr 26, 2011


    Of course I'm showing support for a single religion. As the Bible teaches, Jesus is the only way to salvation. I truly believe that anyone who doesn't have faith in Jesus will spend eternity in hell. Jesus said as much (John 14:6, John 17:3) as well as the apostle Peter (Acts 4:12). I live every day with being a strong Christian witness as my top priority. I would say your teacher was out of line. I don't reference Christianity unless directly asked. I don't but into conversations with a Christian perspective. I don't make references out of nowhere in class. I can't say with certainty (since I'm not omniscient), but experience with my students has shown that the atheistic students are not bothered by my "religious habits." I don't treat them any differently and they seem to feel quite comfortable carrying on casual conversations with me. Out of the 90 students I teach daily, there isn't a single one that I don't have a positive relationship with. I'm not annoying about my beliefs, but I don't whitewash who I am either.
     
  41. 3Sons

    3Sons Connoisseur

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    Apr 26, 2011

    If you mean legally, Christmas songs have generally been held to be acceptable as part of a performance program that included other types of holiday songs.

    Valentine's day is effectively secular.

    As far as Easter eggs, my personal feeling is that they should not. It seems like it could potentially pretty alienating to non-Christian students, given how associated the holiday is with Christianity. I don't know that it's been legally tested anywhere, and there could be a legal justification for allowing them as a secular part of the holiday.

    I'd add that I do like the traditions themselves, engage in them at home, and am very glad that Christianity gave them to us.;)

    EdEd, that's an extremely good and difficult question, and the legal effect of intent and effect often come into play in various court decisions (not just in this area). Either or both can be relevant.

    Getting to the point of case law can be difficult, and it's unlikely you'll get any one-off teacher comments that result in a lawsuit even if the teacher does do things that are illegal. One in Kearny, NJ, a few years back when a teacher told Hindu students they were going to hell if they didn't accept Jesus (and was recorded), did not actually get to the point of a suit and the teacher is still teaching. John Freshwater, a teacher who did have a stack of Bibles in his class and preached creationism pretty heavily (moreso than what RyanS seems to), also burned a cross into a student's arm with an electrostatic device (as a demonstration -- apparently it wasn't a permanent or particularly dangerous burn, though I'm not sure if that meant it was painless). So it was really the combination of the Bibles and the other things that did it. Anyway, Freshwater was given opportunities to change and was only rather reluctantly fired when he refused.

    So judging where the line is can be difficult. I think some of what RyanS is doing probably steps over that line, but not all of it. Teachers can answer direct questions and make reference to religious beliefs, so if a student asked RyanS during an evolution lesson, "But don't you believe in Genesis?" and he responded with saying that he did, and that he had personal doubts about evolution but that it was the generally accepted scientific theory, I'd think he treated the situation reasonably well (not perfectly). His remarking without being asked that he doubts the theory is at the very least pushing the envelope, IMHO.

    :lol::lol:

    This seems very much like a tactic doomed to backfire as soon as students realize that the Greeks and Romans believed their own stories as much as Christianity believes in Jesus, and that they may have said much the same about the Norse deities.
     
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