Religion and Religious Holidays in the Public Schools

A group of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies has produced a publication regarding their views of religious holidays in public schools, appropriately titled “Religious Holidays in the Public Schools.”  The publication explicitly states that it is unrealistic to ban all “seasonal activities” from the schools, especially around December circa Christmas.

However, it also states that while the holidays may be recognized – or even taught – in schools, they should in no way be promoted.  As stated in the publication, this fact was established by the Supreme Court in both Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington v. Schempp (1963), in which they “ruled that public schools may not sponsor religious practices but may not teach about religion.”  Religious holidays should thus be considered as subparts of the large American culture, which has evolved to include an unimaginable number of different religions; this especially pertains to the ever-diverse city of New York.  For example, a Christian hymn can be sung at a school concert during the holidays, but the concert itself cannot be completely focused on religious music.  These religious societies basically state that anything religious can be used in small doses to promote a “sound educational goal in the curriculum, but not if used as a vehicle for promoting religious belief.”[1]

No Religion! (c)

The publication then lists steps that they feel school districts should consider regarding religious holidays:

  1. “ Develop policies about the treatment of religious holidays in the curricula and inform parents of those policies.
  2. Offer pre-service and in-service workshops to assist teachers and administrators in understanding the appropriate place of religious holidays in the schools.
  3. Become familiar with the nature and needs of the religious groups in the school community.
  4. Provide resources for teaching about religions and religious holidays in ways that are constitutionally permissible and educationally sound.”

I feel that it is almost vital for schools districts to follow such steps as a generally accepted standard in approaching religious holidays.  First off, they have been produced by a knowledgeable group of religious societies.  Also, despite this fact, they have no religious implications, and are inherently secular in their purpose.

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