Opinion: Religion’s role

By Editorial Board

Fifth-grade teacher Steven Williams recently filed a lawsuit against a suburban San Francisco public school claiming that administrators were violating his First Amendment rights.

According to the lawsuit, the principal prevented Williams from handing out documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams’ “Rights of the Colonists” and President Bush’s 2004 presidential prayer proclamation in his history lessons, because they referenced God and Christianity.

If Williams is guilty of presenting history with a Christian bias, then school administrators have the right to intervene. Obviously, if he’d made references to God and Christianity that endorsed school prayer, for example, this would unfairly subject students to religious beliefs and lack an academic purpose.

However, if Williams merely hands out documents that reference religion, then pre-screening the materials would be unnecessary and unmerited.

It would be absurd to omit religious references when teaching students why the Pilgrims came to the “New World.” Also, would some suggest that Chaucer and Dante should be banned from English class because of their religious content?

Referencing God and Christianity in public schools wouldn’t be so much of an issue in the first place if history weren’t taught from a Eurocentric view. Most history typically isn’t taught in a way that leads students to respect other religions. Often, accounts only reflect Christian viewpoints or values, and non-Christian religions are only mentioned when discussing the last century. World history also often treats Islam, Judaism and other religions as if they were foreign to and distant from the United States.

History shouldn’t ignore the important role religion has played in society. As long as it is taught with objectivity and put into context, we don’t see how it alienates members of other faiths.

Educators have the right to take issue with the overall unbalanced portrayal of religion in U.S. history classes, but the solution is not to take away information that could be useful and valuable to students if taught in an appropriate manner. The only correct way to tackle this is to equally include the historical context of other popular religions.

Separation of church and state exists to prevent religious persecution and to protect minority rights. But Williams’ public school has taken it to a new level. In its zeal to become politically correct, the school has unintentionally left out facts and ideas that must be taught.