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Religious Tolerance logo

Religion in the public schools, libraries, etc.

An Oregon attempt to teach
comparative religion

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Sponsored link.

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Background information:

Education standards in Oregon require students to "understand the important of the rise of Islam and its interaction with Europe."

According to school superintendent Don Grotting, schools in Nyssa, OR, are teaching material from a series of textbooks by McGraw-Hill titled "Journey Across Time." The series is intended for ages 9 to 12. Amazon.com describes it:

"Journey Across Time: The Early Ages is an all-new middle school world history program organized chronologically from the first humans and ancient civilizations to the present. Co-authored by National Geographic and Jackson Spielvogel, Journey Across Times: The Early Ages' engaging narrative and outstanding visuals transport students back in time. As co-author, National Geographic ensures that students understand the influence of geography on historical events. The result is a standards-based program with important geography skills embedded in every lesson."

"Journey Across Time: The Early Ages is available in a full volume and also as Course 1 (7000 B.C. to A.D.800) and Course 2 (A.D.500 to A.D.1750)." 1

As of 2006-OCT-12, only one customer reviewed the book on the Amazon.com web site. He/she was not impressed, and gave it a rating of 1 out of 5 stars. Zero stars is not permitted:

"I have to use it every day in school, it is so dry you could dump the ocean on it and it would not get wet. I always fall asleep while reading it. This is a boring book in a 12 year olds view. I don't know about you but DON'T BUY IT! IT SUCKS! ... only nerds and geeks will like it."

Grotting said that the book talks about:

"... how civilization has developed and some of the particular aspects of Islam. We teach out of the book, and there are some supplemental class activities. The kids do some skits, they could bring a food from the region, you could build a prop that would have depicted [something] maybe during that time period. If you wanted to you could dress up (as a Muslim) for extra credit."

Other topics that the students learned are:

bulletThe geography and climate of the Middle East.
bulletThe food and everyday activities of Muslims.
bulletThe five pillars of Islam -- (to recite the shahadah (creed); prayer; charitable donations; fasting during Ramadan and to make a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca once during their lifetime.

The class listened to a woman guest speaker who is a Muslim and was described on the WorldNetDaily (WND) web site as "dressed in her religious costume." This might have meant that she wore a hijab -- a scarf that covered her hair.

Grotting said that:

"She relayed to the kids: 'if you're a Christian, you have your Bible. This is our Qur'an'."

The Associated Press wrote:

"School officials said that teaching about Islam is not promoting the religion."

" 'We try to be cognizant of parents' concerns. At times we will have alternative assignments for some students,' said social studies teacher Jim Casad. 'I believe we're not here to promote or advocate either religion or politics. However, we do have an obligation to inform students of what is going on in our world today and how history and culture have affected that world'." 2

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Teaching about religion

As we describe elsewhere in this web site, teaching about religion in public school is fraught with hazards:

bulletIt is unlikely that Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christian parents would find a balanced, inclusive, objective religious comparative religion course to be acceptable. ... it would expose their children to beliefs that they strongly disagree with. Some believe that these other religions are led by Satan or his demons. Many regard any attempt to educate as indoctrination.
bulletLiberal Christians, and non-Christians would probably approve of the course, particularly if it discusses a wide range of religions and is an elective course.
bulletAgnostics, Atheists, free thinkers, Humanists and others might object, feeling that objective courses could not be taught by teachers who follow an Abrahamic faith (e.g. Judaism, Christianity & Islam or some other monotheistic belief system.

Any board of education that decides to add a religion course can expect to generate intense conflict and anger within the community. They might expose themselves to an expensive court battle, particularly if their course was not balanced so that it did not favor one religion over another, and did not favor religion over a secular lifestyle.

The result might well be a stalemate, with no  religion courses being taught. 

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Objections to the Nyssa, OR course:

Kendalee Garner objected to her son taking the course. She also objected to the amount of time spent on teaching about Islam. When she complained to the school, her son was given an alternate assignment in the school library. She said that her son is being:

"indoctrinated that Islam is a religion of peace, and being dressed up as a Muslim, being taught prayers, and scriptures out of the Qur'an. ...I just don't understand the ban on Christianity but Islam has free rein. 3

WND wrote that:

"She said the guest speakers and skits and reports were wrong, but what set her off was a class in which students in all three social studies classes dressed in traditional Islamic outfits. 'The only reason I knew about it was because my son told me about it,' she said. 'They sent him to the library instead of stopping what they were doing. I'm sure people would be outraged if they dressed up as the pope'." 3

It is not clear why she compared students dressed in traditional Muslim clothing with hypotheical students dressing as the pope. Comparing the students dressed in Muslim clothing with students dressed in Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist clothing would have been a more meaningful comparison.

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A legal opinion:

Edward White III, of the Thomas More Law Center said:

"If that's how teaching about religions is done [in Nyssa, OR], then teach all religions in the same way, Christianity, Judaism. Have the kids study Native American religions, do the dance, smoke the pipe. Have the kids dress up as priests and hear confession."

He said when he suggests that, school managers and even judges get that "panic-stricken" look.

There are obvious health problems with smoking a peace pipe. Any school that tried that would probably be descended upon by the local health unit. There would also be major concerns if students learned about Roman Catholicism by dressing in a priest's clothing and hearing confession. But learning about the history, traditions, beliefs, and practices of Native American, Christians can obviously be done without endangering the students' health or engaging in insulting behavior.

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  1. "Journey Across Time: Early Ages, Student Edition," McGraw-Hill, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

  2. "Parent protests; school defends unit on Islam," Associated Press, 2006-OCT-02, at: http://www.oregonlive.com/

  3. " 'Five pillars of Islam' taught in public school. 'Education practice wouldn't last 10 seconds if kids told to dress as priests'," WorldNetDaily, 2006-OCT-10, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/

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Site navigation:

Home > Christianity > Christian history > Prayer > Schools > Teach religion > here


or: Home > Law menu > Schools > Teach religion > here

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-OCT-12
Latest update: 2006-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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