To What Extent is the Separation of Church and State Followed in the United States Education System?
Conflict is composed of opposing forces.
The conflict of separation of church and state in the educational system is made up of two opposing sides: public schools in the United States that currently exercise the separation of church and state and public schools in the United States that do not exercise the separation of church and state. The Americans United for separation of church and state is an organization that encourages separation of religion in schools. According to their perspective, they argue, “They [Teachers] can also talk to fellow students about religion, so long as it isn’t harassing. But public schools may not pressure students to engage in prayer or other religious activities.” The A.U’s perspective on separation of church and state is that it stops teachers from teaching or “preaching” religious ideas to students. For example in science, educators have to teach evolution because it is a evidence based theory on the origins of life. They cannot teach creationism because it is solely religious based. However there are people whose perspective is that there is enough separation in schools and that policies are making it difficult to practice their religion in schools. According to the Washington Post, states,” Schools are forbidden from initiating or sponsoring religious activities, including prayer, but religious groups are permitted to meet on school grounds after school...” Public schools are misunderstanding what is allow in their school. Students are allowed to have religious clubs but cannot force there peers to attend, but schools are denying their First Amendment and confusing it for separation of church and state.
Conflict may be natural or man-made
This conflict is man-made because our government and documents, for example, the constitution, implies the separation of church and state. In the constitution it states, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." This document was written in 1787 and is still used today in our educational system. In other words, schools should not have any religious ideas portrayed in the classroom. Even if teachers are religious they cannot teach it because it is mandated by the state. However, separation of church and state was not always a conflict. In the beginning, public schools and public education was church- based because the colonist were highly religious so they taught religion in schools. But today it has adapted, the founding fathers found it unconstitutional to teach religion so they created the separation. The conflict is man- made because The Constitution was written by men and the laws and arguments are not natural phenomena.
Conflict may be intentional or unintentional.
The conflict is both intentional and unintentional. Having a country where religion is not forced upon citizens is intentional because it is written in the constitution. It is also intentional to remove religious ideas from the curriculum that is being taught in public schools. For example in an article by the United Americans for Separation of church and state, the author states, ”Public schools may instruct students about religion in an even-handed, objective manner, such as discussing the impact of religion on history, art, music and literature, or teaching a course on comparative religion. But they may not teach religiously based curriculum.” Therefore, teachers may discuss religion but cannot teach any ideas that are religion-based to indoctrinate their students. However because of the First Amendment, students are allowed to express their own religion in school but separation of church and state has made it difficult for students to do so. According to The Christian Science Monitor, it states,”We've gone from virtual silence about religion in the curriculum and virtually no student religious expression in many schools.” Schools unintentionally have taken separation of church and state to a point where students feel uncomfortable practicing their own religion. They have created a paradoxical situation in where students have the freedom to practice their religion but chose not to because they feel uncomfortable or that there will be consequences if they do so.
Conflict may allow for synthesis and change.
According to The Separation of Church and State in the United States by Steven K. Green:
1768- Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Dutch Reformed—feared that a domestic Anglican bishop would not only increase the power of the Anglican Church at the expense of other Protestant bodies, but also would threaten the civil and religious liberties that the colonists had grown to expect over 150 years of benign neglect.
1765- Before the crisis arose patriots raised claims of political liberty in those formative years, matters of religious liberty and conscience were also on their minds.
1800s- Separation of church and state has been part of the nation’s legal and cultural nomenclature. The authors of the Constitution inserted a ban on any religious test for public office holding, while the First Congress drafted a constitutional amendment prohibiting a religious establishment and protecting the free exercise of religion.
1947- Court’s first Establishment Clause holding, Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Hugo Black wrote: The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church.
1940s-1980s- The Supreme Court adhered to the stricter separationist position, striking prayer and Bible reading in the public schools, barring most funding of parochial schools, and striking the government’s display of the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols.
Conflict is progressive.
The conflict of separation of church and state is progressive because the system has changed from only evolution in the classroom to some states being allowed teach creationism as well. According to, the court case 917 F2d 1004 Webster v. New Lenox School District No M, in 1990, it states “The district court determined that Mr. Dunne failed to state a cognizable first amendment claim because his desire to obtain information about creation science was outweighed by the school district's compelling interest in avoiding establishment clause violations and in protecting the first amendment rights of other students.” This teacher believed that he could teach creationism because of his first amendment but the court denied it. Their reasoning was that by allowing him to teach creationism it would violate the students’ First Amendment. According to Revamped ‘anti-science’ education bills in United States find Success by Erin Ross it states,” Florida’s legislature approved a bill on 5 May that would enable residents to challenge what educators teach students. And two other states have already approved non-binding legislation this year urging teachers to embrace ‘academic freedom’ and present the full spectrum of views on evolution and climate change.” Schools in Florida and in other states will soon be allowed to teach what they please in school, specifically on evolution. Over the years the separation has become weaker in some parts of the nation, there has been progress on religion in the classroom. Currently, there is a debate over public funding for private or religious insitutions due to a voucher program that is supported by the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. This conflict displays the big idea that the separation of church and state is in the educational curriculum. Some public schools teach on science based information discluding religious information. According to, Under DeVos, Here's How School Choice Might Work by Anya Kamenetz, it states, “Corporations or individuals can offset state tax liability by donating to a private, nonprofit scholarship organization. The money from this fund is in turn awarded to families to pay for tuition at private schools.” The voucher program overpasses the separation of church and state. The separation of church and state divides education and religious views, and the voucher program is basically providing citizens with government funds to move to a private religious school. “Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” by Katherine Stewart states, “Like other advocates of school voucher programs, Ms. DeVos presents her plans as a way to improve public education and give families more choice. But the family foundations’ money supports a far more expansive effort.” Ms. DeVos displays the voucher program as a program that is made to improve public schools and give families a chance to attend a private school. Therefore, the separation of church and state, and the extent in which public schools practice this constitutional rule is inconsistent in schools across America.
Language Of The Discipline
According to the Merriam-Webster it states that the definition of secular is “ not involving religion or religious matters”
According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy it defines creationism as “ believes that a god who is absolute creator of heaven and earth, out of nothing, by an act of free will. “
Intelligent Design is defined as “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause. This "intelligent cause" is often assumed to be God.” in Understanding Science
A voucher is defined as “a coupon issued by government to a parent or guardian to be used to fund a child's education in either a public or private school” in Merriam Webster.
Separation of church and state removes religious based ideas from the education curriculum. Controversial issues where separation of church and state have impacted the curriculum is origins of life, history, and climate change. When discussing the origin of life in school, the school curriculum calls for evolution. According to the National Science Teachers Association it states, ”Furthermore, if evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy needed to be well-informed citizens and prepared for college and STEM careers.” Teachers need to teach evolution because it gives students the resources to become well informed on the origins of life. They do not teach creationism because this religious based and will violate the separation. However some public schools do not have this separation of church and state, like the school in Louisiana. According to The New York Times, “The Louisiana law permits public school teachers to use materials critical of established scientific thought, with “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning” singled out as targets.” This public school teaches controversy because they discuss religious based theories as well as evolution. The state of Louisiana “has created a backdoor” where creationism has entered the classroom. Therefore in these schools there is no separation of church and state.
The rules within the separation of church and state are included in the educational curriculum. For example, Can students pray in public schools? Can teachers say ‘Merry Christmas’? What’s allowed — and what’s forbidden by Valerie Strauss it is written, “...religious groups are permitted to meet on school grounds after school, and students can pray to whatever or whomever they want at any time of day, as long as they do it privately and don’t try to force others to do the same... What the Court has done — and continues to do — is to strike down school-sponsored prayers and devotional exercises as violations of religious liberty. As a result of those decisions, school officials may not impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.” Public schools are not allowed to conduct religious movements in school, but students individually are allowed to practice their religion at school as long as they do not force others to practice their religion with them. Educators at all times can not force students to practice a religion, conduct religious events, or involve students in religious celebrations in schools. All religious matters have to be done independently or in a club conducted by students.
World/Globally Separation of church and state has parallelsglobally. For example in the year 1981 Chile introduced an educational voucher system. A voucher system is when taxpayer money is used to fund a student’s tuition at a private religious school. According to “Future Ed” it states, “Chile introduced a universal educational voucher system for students in both its elementary and secondary schools that was very similar to the model Friedman proposed in 1955.” This shows how countries around the world are adapting their separation of church and state. Community/School In our school Mendez Fundamental separation of church and state is seen in multiple ways. For example when 8th graders are being taught about the origins of life the theory that is taught is evolution. In Social Studies we do not learn any biblical history, however, if there is a biblical reference or an allusion in a poem or literary work, we will reference it for purposes of analysis. Furthermore, there is an FCA club, but it is voluntary and during hours outside of the classroom. Personal Life As a Catholic student attending a public school, I feel that schools should incorporate religious ideas in the classroom. Both religious theories and non religious theories should be discussed in order to have multiple perspectives on a controversial topic. However, I also understand that it would make non-Catholic people uncomfortable. The balance between making religious people comfortable and non-religious people uncomfortable is a challenge.
The main conflict within the issue of separation of church and state is evolution and creationism. Parents, students, and teachers are affected by the conflict of evolution and creationism because of their religious standpoint, it is seen unethical to some people but they cannot do anything about it. According to the articleHow Well Do Biology Teachers Understand the Legal Issues Associated with the Teaching of Evolution? by Moore Randy it states, “Although knowledge of these court decisions can help teachers resist pressures to spurn evolution or to teach creationism, many teachers have a poor understanding of the legal issues associated with the teaching of evolution and creationism.” Even though teachers feel that evolution is unethical, they would rather teach it than creationism. For the reason, that not all students will believe in the same religious figures which will end up creating more conflict. Also, the parents can become upset when learning that their child is being taught something they don’t agree with.
STUDENT-LED RESEARCH - OUR METHOD
Our student-led research was a survey. We chose to do our research this way because we wanted to discover how teachers felt teaching the topic of evolution. We wanted to discover if their religion or other personal feelings affected the way they taught something they we against, if they were against the teaching of evolution. This connects to our driving question because in our driving question we state, “How do the two opposing views of creationism and evolution contribute to dilemmas for science teachers in the US? By conducting this survey we understand how the teachings of creationism and evolution contribute to conflicts created by the science curriculum.
Additionally we made a survey for students. We wanted to know how they felt when a religious view was mentioned during class their feelings towards religious clubs at school.
Our survey questions were: Are you religious?, As an educator, have you ever felt uncomfortable when teaching a topic you were opposed to?, How do you feel about teaching evolution in your classroom?, Have you ever had a student who got upset with you teaching the topic of evolution?, Has a parent ever gotten upset with you for teaching evolution?, In your opinion, should creationism be taught in schools? and Do you believe that only evolution or creationism should be taught or should it be a mix of both?
For the student survey we asked the questions: When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, have you ever felt uncomfortable saying "Under God"?, Have you ever felt uncomfortable practicing your own religion at school? ie. praying the rosary, reading the bible, crossing yourself (persinando te), How do you feel when teachers reference a religious view?, Have you felt uncomfortable because of FCA?, Have you ever felt uncomfortable because of Free Space?, Do you believe schools should have events held in the classroom for Christmas?.
We asked these questions because they relate to our driving question since we were trying to understand if a science teacher ever got upset with teaching something they had to mandatorily teach and if they really felt comfortable teaching it.
We asked these questions because we wanted to discover student’s feelings towards religion practiced at school and how comfortable they felt with it.
In our survey we discovered that it contained flaws. For example in our first question, “Are you religious?” we came to find out that the question was too vague and that many didn’t understand it. We also understood that we didn’t include intelligent design anywhere in our survey and that many teachers asked if we knew about it. Other than that we got back many comments on the survey that helps us gain research within our topic. We came to find out that most teachers were religious, but that didn’t affect their belief in evolution for some. Others, were religious and felt uncomfortable with teaching evolution.
Our student survey went very smoothly. There were no students who asked what something ment and we asked students from different grade levels.
We asked 9 people who taught science to answer our survey. This affects the answers we get to the questions because it applies to them. This might be a limitation of our research since they need to mandatorily teach evolution and might feel scared to answer the questions honestly. These survey results may inform us on constructing a resolution on the issue with the mandated teaching of evolution by creating a waiver of some sort that allows children not comfortable learning about evolution because of their religion or another issue, which would decrease the problem of teachers getting put at fault for teaching evolution even when they have to mandatorily do it.
In total for our student survey we surveyed 30 students. Asking students did not affect our research because the survey was made for them and we trust that every student answered honestly. However, because our sample size (the number of students we surveyed) was small and because the students we surveyed were from one school and age group, their opinions may not reflect the entire country.
Big Idea Chart
Reflections: My 10 Week Journey to symposium
Reflection #1 of 4
During the exploration of my topic, evolution and creationism contributing to dilemmas for science teachers, I have learned many new things. Some of them being that there have been many court cases where teachers have been sent to court for teaching creationism in schools. Additionally, I have learned that students were also the people who sent their teachers to court for teaching from the Bible and them not feeling comfortable. The articles I have read have read that teachers want to be able to teach creationism in schools and that for some, teaching evolution is not easy on them or students with religious beliefs. Later on in my research, I hope to find out more of the educator’s personal feeling when teaching evolution. The collaboration with my team is going very well. Everything seems to be working and we are on top of everything we do, including deadlines. Reflection #2 of 4
With our student lead research, my team and I chose to conduct a survey. We chose to conduct a survey because we thought it would be a really good idea and an easy way to collect information on teacher’s feelings when it comes to teaching evolution. The easy part in doing a survey was probably the step where we had to create the questions. I found this part the easiest because my team and I from the start already had a plan of what kind of questions we wanted to ask. For our next steps to successfully complete the project, my team and I need to work on our ISD and we need to brainstorm our Trifold design. We also need to pass out our survey to science teachers asap and hopefully get all of our results back by next Wednesday. The collaboration is going very swell. Everything is working well and there are no problems between team members or the project. Reflection #3 of 4
For my team’s trifold we would like to seperate the board in two pieces. On one side of the board we will have pews to represent the church and religion with creationism. The other side will represent education and science with evolution. On our board we would like have a monkey evolving to the final product of a man. Additionally, we will be having a stain glass for the religion half and a regular window for the educational side. The collaboration in our team is going very well. We are doing great.
Reflection #4 of 4
Our new driving question is, To what extent is the separation of church and state followed in the United States education system? Some revisions we made to our presentation is that we got a new driving question and we had to redo our ISD, Relevant Resolution, and our Really Big Idea Chart. I am doing great collaborating with my group. If I didn’t have the team that I have, none of the symposium elements would have looked as amazing as our trifold and creative piece looks. One piece of advice I would give to an incoming student next year is to not procrastinate.