Religion is an important part of our life. Religion has important function as it not only presents the system of beliefs but also teaches people important moral norms and regulations. Children who attend schools need moral guideline and religious education. They grow and develop and form their mentality and on this stage religions education is very important. Through the centuries religious education was the part of study program in the U.S. I think that it was very vice and clever decision because the study of Christianity is very important for the educational process. At the present moment the study of religion is limited in public schools. This changes were enacted due to the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. The study of Christian religion and the Holy Bible was cancelled in order to maintain neutral position to all religions.
Universal declaration enacted by the United Nations in 1948, adopted in order to provide the universal rules for the all people of the world states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”¯
It is stated in the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Both, declaration and Constitution insist on the freedom of religious choice, freedom to manifest religious teachings, practice and worship. James Madison, the author of our Bill of Rights said: “The purpose of the separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries”¯(Lee 113). King called the church the conscience of the state.
First of all I would like to underline the fact, that religious freedoms, same as freedoms of speech, are natural rights of the people, which belong to them from birth. Constitution does not give these rights to people; it just guarantees the preservation of the born rights of the citizens. Religious freedom is one of the most important freedoms of the citizens. Without religious freedom people would present only political and economical entities, but not free human beings (Carter, 1993). Any other rights and freedom mean very little without the religious freedom. We live in the beginning of the 21st century, the age of technical progress, globalization and integration. It may seem that religious prosecutions and discriminations are left in the past. We remember with shudder the crusades and atrocities of Inquisitions towards dissent in the Middle ages. All this seems to be a terrible and shameful past. Religious freedom is defended by constitution nowadays and it seems like nothing threatens it. But the situation will look quite different, if we take a closer look at it. The Constitution really defends rights and freedoms.
American constitution, which became the example of democracy for all over the world, proclaims the freedom of religion, but sometimes it lacks an effective mechanisms, which would make it work. The cancellation of religious studies at public schools violates religious freedom proclaimed by the Constitution.
Two major problems, which can cause the violation of the freedom of religion, deal with two main clauses of the amendment ”“ the establishment clause and the exercise clause. Establishment clause of the First Amendment states that the government has no right to interfere with the religious institutions. It states that neither state no federal government can cause any pressure on the existing church, create new religious institution or give any support to the existing ones. Government can not implement laws, which benefit one church, and suppresses another or give preferences to separate religions. Neither can government interfere with the set of beliefs of separate individual, by any forms of influence or pressure. Religious beliefs can not become the reason of prosecution. Since public schools are governed by the state they also go under regulation about governmental non-interference to religious issues.
The difficulty with the establishment clause lies in the difficulty to define the limits between church and public affairs. The point is that different churches usually support a lot of programs in public sectors, such as orphanages, schools, hospital and many other charity centers. Government financing programs and charity donations to these institutions very often become the cause of court hearings. The help of the state to the church programs of the public sector cause problems and ambiguity. Sometimes it is hard to define if social programs held by the church belong to public sector or should be defined as the part of the church. From one side, such a financing by the state could violate the establishment of the 1st Amendment. From another side, the prohibition to funding can cause damage to the number of social programs held or founded by the church. During many years, every school day in America was started with a prayer. For many years this was a settled ritual, a tribute of respect. In the middle of the last century the group of parents decided that this ritual offended the religious feelings of their children, being “contrary to the beliefs, religions, or religious practices of both themselves and their children”¯, who didn’t belong to Christian religion. This was not regarded as discrimination of religious freedom by most of the citizens, who belonged to this religion.
The U.S. constitution is that it defenses not only the rights of majorities, but also takes in the account the rights freedoms of the minorities, despite how small they are. The representatives of these minorities went to court and won very loud case in the United States Supreme Court, called Engel v. Vitale. Hugo Black agreed that despite how neutral, mandatory prayer has broken the freedoms, declared by the Establishment Clause. Prayer was admitted as a religious action and this way it couldn’t be used in state institutions as the First Amendment “must at least mean that [it] is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government [through the public school system]”¯ (Lee 118). This decision has caused a big resonance in the society. The wave of protests of those, who saw nothing wrong in starting a school day with prayer, was assuaged by the words of President John Kennedy. Kennedy supported the decision of the court and insisted on the importance of personal opinion and religious freedom. He called not to abandon prayer, but to make it more personal issue trying to skip public manifestations, which could offend the feelings of others.Ā This case became very symbolic for the American history and created an important precedent for all further Court trials.
Not only prayer, but also religious lessons were excluded from public schools. “Based on the traditional liberal view that State interference is legitimate when there is harm to others, proponents claim that mandating religious education in the public schools is within the government’s authority”¯ (Connors, 69). I believe that aiming to defend the right of minorities American authorities finally deprived all citizens of their rights. At the situation we face now neither representatives of minority nor majority groups of pupils can realize their right for freedom of religion.
I believe that explanations that this was done in order to keep Constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens do not stand critics. Liberal education can not lack such and important component as religion. People who insist on the cancellation of religious studies as school deprive pupils of important part of educational program. It is also necessary to take into account that not all families are able to provide religious education to their children. In this case children will not be able to get any kind of information about any religion themselves and this way their right for the freedom of religion will be limited. There is another important fact which should be taken into account. In some families where religion occupies an important place parents may be to persistent teaching religious norms to their children. In this case children. If school had a religious classes these children would be able to make their own conclusions and would be able to compare information they get from their parents with more neutral information they would be taught in school. In this case their religious freedom would be defended better than in the cases when they do not have any alternative source of information.