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Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 02 April 2012

Over at the blog of the Alliance Defense Fund, David Cortman writes that public schools shouldn't let church-state concerns dissuade from teaching the Christian meaning and celebration of Easter. The Constitution does not forbid it, he argues, and for a holiday of such substantial religious significance, it also makes good educational sense to teach about the resurrection.

[I]t is not only legally permitted, it is educationally sound.  How can we expect our children to understand our culture, our history, without teaching them the religious aspects.  There is no doubt that our country has a great religious heritage.  Regardless of how groups on the left try to rewrite history and ignore this, it remains in our literature, our pop culture, our monuments, and our buildings.  Unless we are to whitewash all of this (which would certainly please our leftist friends), we must teach our children where we came from, along with the underpinnings of all our freedoms.

I don't disagree with his conclusion. Courts have certainly interpreted the First Amendment to allow for teaching about religions, while maintaining a ban on religious indoctrination or promotion of religion. Easter surely has great religious significance for people all around the world, including of course many Americans.

In a class where cultural understanding is relevant to the curriculum, a discussion of the holiday's religious significance seems sensible, as does a discussion of the significance of the Jewish observance of Purim and Passover, and other religious holy days surrounding this part of the year. Indeed, inclusion of other religions' important observances would be one helpful way to avoid crossing over from teaching *about* religion into an improper promotion of religion.

Important too is how the discussion is led, and that (along with his parenthetical name-calling) is where I part ways with Cortman's post. Approaching a public school discussion of Easter from a perspective that emphasizes "where we came from" runs counter to the requirement of government neutrality in matters of religion, and risks turning what may otherwise be a valuable educational lesson into an improper religious indoctrination. Teaching about Christianity from a first-person point of view will surely alienate students that "come from" other faith traditions. What *we* are now is a nation of incredibly diverse religious traditions. Implying an "us" and "them" framework is improper and inaccurate.

On another note, we Christians should not assume that any and all religious discussion of Easter would be a winning proposition for our faith. The religious significance of our most holy day is properly taught in our churches and our homes. When students inevitably ask probing questions about the resurrection of Christ, who would you rather have answering them: the child's parent, or his Social Studies teacher? Do you want his English teacher noting, truthfully, that some devout Christians do not interpret the resurrection story literally? Or would you rather him have that discussion in Bible study with a minister? Or at home?

In short, yes, Easter's religious significance may perhaps be taught in schools, but only carefully - from a religiously neutral perspective, preferably in the context of the observances of many faiths, and wary of entering into theological discussions more suited for houses of worship and family discussion. The question remains: though allowed, is it wise? Such a lesson risks presentations of faith that some parents and faithful adherents would reject, leaving for educators only the most bare, generic description of religious beliefs. Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for?

 
 
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