According to Thomas (2006), the presence and scope of religion in schools is one of the most difficult, challenging and controversial church/state issues. Teaching about religion for its historical, literary and traditional value is largely acceptable in many regions across the world. On the other hand, teaching religion in a doctrinal, or a way that support a particular religion is against the law in many societies. In many occasions, the distinction between “teaching religion” and “teaching about religion” is unclear and challenging to balance. Despite the many debates about religion in schools, many questions remain unanswered on how religion matters should be handled in schools.
In a secular setting such as the case of the US, teaching about religion aims to enlighten students about the part played by religion. In this context, religion is part of a secular learning program. The programs focus on instilling appreciation, tolerance and esteem for a pluralistic society. In the context of a secular and multi-religion society, religion must be discussed and contained in an objective, impartial and balanced manner. The learning programs should target to instill knowledge about principles of religious liberty as enshrined in the constitution. While it is permissible to teach about religion in public schools institutions in an impartial and secular manner, school managers, educators and parents should be conscious of the inherent dangers.
“Teaching religion” influence religious indoctrination and practice especially in schools since the pupils are undergoing development phase. Design of Public school programs envisions discouragement of promotion or inhibition of religion. Schools restrain stakeholders from interfering with others religion and practices. Hay (1985) says that it is acceptable for schools to impart secular values that are similar with religious values. Values such as trustworthiness, respect for others, bravery, tolerance for diversity, compassion and good citizenship are essential to students and should not be taught as religious doctrines. In light of all these issues, it is of concern to look at the future and potential direction of issues that related to religion in schools especially in the wake of increasing association of religion and terrorism.
Recent news headlines regarding the ban of religious dressing (Hijab) in Europe have re-ignited debates about religion tolerance and its future in schools and society. The increasing trend in the ban of religious dressing code has come in the wake of a disturbing rise in cases of fanatical interpretation of religious teachings among school going pupils. Many states, governments and other stakeholders have to rethink about freedom and religious liberty in the context of emerging challenges. The ban on student use of veils in schools forms a turning point in addressing the ever challenging issues of religion in schools. This comes in the wake of increased awareness of student’s freedoms and rights.
In conclusion, the courts and legislatures will continue to performance a vital role in defining religious issues in schools for the common good of schools and society. Outside litigation and legislation—will be the promise to student’s religious liberty in the minds and hearts of the society. Only when a typical student face the challenges of diversity supporting the rights of others, comprising those with whom they differ, will religion harmony flourish and grow in schools and learning institutions.