First Amendment Ideals

March 2002

In the last few months there has been an increasing surge in cultural and religious conflicts in public schools throughout the U.S. Some groups are more actively promoting posting of then national motto, “In God We Trust,” in classrooms. Others are pressuring school boards to include Intelligent Design alongside evolution in the classroom, while still others threaten to sue if they do. The Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality of Cleveland’s vouchers for private schools, and the current worldwide battle against terrorism has brought fresh questions about religious points of view and a fresh challenge of how to educate students regarding religious differences.

There are two ways districts usually respond to these kinds of issues. Most choose to ignore them, hoping they won’t emerge in their own district while others take the path of least resistance giving in to the latest group to threaten protests. There is a better way that can help you proactively establish an environment that can address these concerns that can deal with differences without polarizing in conflict.

Helping staff, students and your community understand and appreciate the First Amendment ideals that define our national life and provide a way for us to respect different points of view without forcing people to compromise their deepest convictions. The problem is most people don’t understand those ideals, or don’t appreciate how they can help us in these kinds of conflicts.

  • Training staff to know how to handle questions of religious practice and how to cover religious themes when they surface in the classroom is more important than ever. The initial response often determines whether a simple concern turns into a polarizing conflict.
  • Teaching students how First Amendment ideals practically apply to how they treat classmates and can be an effective model to address bullying and harassment on campus. The First Amendment Center is developing a curriculum to do just that. You can view it here. Some teachers are even using this model with great success as the foundation for their system of classroom discipline that is based on mutual respect among students.
  • Helping your community appreciate the values of the First Amendment that can help us fairly live with our differences.

Taking time for this kind of training may not seem important in this time of exacting standards and assessments. But if you’ve ever witnessed the good will and resources that can be wasted in an all-out conflict between different factions of the community, you know how critical it can be.

Wayne Jacobsen, President
BridgeBuilders

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Worldviews Education Watch (WEW) is a free service provided by BridgeBuilders offering the latest information on religious liberty and public education drawn from court cases, policies and current events. It will also share examples of successful partnerships and cooperation between public schools and faith communities.

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