Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Respecting Separation of Church and State

The same teacher I was having an online discussion with about the Pledge of Allegiance also feels it is perfectly okay to have a verse from the Christian Bible posted in her room. She said that if any students asked her about it, she would explain her beliefs to them. 

I asked her, following her logic of posting the Bible verse, if it would also be okay for meto explain my deeply held religious belief that there is no Hell, because a God of infinite mercy and the concept of eternal damnation don't logically go together and I prefer to believe in an all loving and compassionate God to her child in my classroom, or if it would be okay for a teacher of a different faith altogether to post something from their religious book on the wall as a way to explain their beliefs. I received no response to this. 

One time I was asked by a student why students couldn’t pray in school. As she came to talk to me privately about this, I decided to talk to her seriously. I explained that she and the other students had the total right to pray in school. That was established. The only time I could bar praying out loud would be when I barred all talking of any kind. I explained that what was not allowed was for me, as the teacher, to lead the class in a prayer. 

She asked me why that would be so bad. I taught in the Deep South in a rural school. I had never asked her her faith, but took the gamble it was not Catholicism, the faith I had been raised in. I asked her what her parents’ reaction would be if I led the class in saying a “Hail Mary.” She rocked back a little and her eyes grew large. I then pointed out that while that was not a prayer she used in her faith, it was a common one in the one I had been raised in. And then I added that that was just another type of Christianity. What about students of other faiths? Even in that rural district I had taught students who were Jewish and Islamic. What about the students who were agnostic or atheist? She got it.

I get that people of faith have deeply held beliefs. I have my own. But I do not see it as our place as teachers to be promoting our beliefs to our students. That is disrespectful to the students and to their parents. Further, as teachers we are representatives of the State. There is a firm separation of church and state. We must respect that.

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