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IMGALTTAG Volume VI: Religion in American Society


Freedom of Religion: An American Attribute
Joseph Chmiel

The public schools in the United States have developed in large part according to the model conceived in the 18th Century by Thomas Jefferson. Because churches were in conflict over the essentials of basic theology--especially concerning the beliefs necessary for salvation--and because of his own philosophical suppositions and concerns for national political unity, Jefferson called upon public schools to combine aspects from both the Judeo-Christian traditions and the elements form other world view, that our founding fathers regarded and being common to all religions, the best in all religions and the only aspect of any religion necessary to civic order and well being. The purpose was to inculcate youth in a national democratic faith and morality to foster national unity and well being. However, it did not work out.

While Congress made no laws to promote the establishment of religion, states were free to have established religions. At first the problems were just between the different Protestant sects. But when a large number of non-Protestant immigrants entered the US, the conflicts were exacerbated. Jewish, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic immigrants did not want their children indoctrinated with the Pan Protestant theology and morality taught in the Public Schools. Immigrant groups founded parochial schools during the period early nineteenth century as a means of preserving their ethnic and religious identity.

In the twentieth Century, the trend has swung to an opposite extreme, some charge "secular humanism" New Age objection to any thing "multicultural; moral education and values clarification." A new "GODLESS" philosophy that contributed to a breakdown of our society.

The purpose of religious studies in public education is to help students attain, by means of methods commensurate with their stages of intellectual, emotional and social development, a broad and balances understanding of the nature and function of religions in the personal, social and historical lives and the lives of others.

There are basic distinctions regarding teaching about religion. First teaching about religion is academic not devotion. Second, students’ awareness of religions is paramount. Third, students study about religion, not the practice of religion. Fourth, students should be exposed to a diversity of religious beliefs and not to impose or conform to any particular beliefs.


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Religion in America in the 1950's and 1960's: A Minority Perspective
Ivan C. Frank, Ph.D.

The sub unit, which I am writing in a narrative form is Religion in America in the 1950's and 1960's: A Minority Perspective. This sub unit will be integrated into my original unit on the 1950's and 1960's in America. It develops a political, social, and cultural perspective. The latter segment includes the music and literature of the late 1950's and the 1960's. The sub unit emphasizes the issues of fragmentation and civil religion within the major religions and political institutions in America as well as on the grass roots political scene. This will include the major problem of the First Amendment and our interpretation of the Separation of Church and State's status historically as well as within the two decades of the sub unit. Therefore, the teacher and the students will delve into that controversy as it stems from the various governmental and popular approaches to it, as well as the Civil Rights Movement and its goals which created a battlefield on which liberals and conservatives of all denominations engaged in the 1950's and 1960's.


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Religion and Politics in Cuba; Before and After the Castro Revolution
Pamela L. Miller

Religion and politics in Cuba share a history unlike any other in the Spanish-speaking world. In contrast to the peaceful coexistence of church and state in most Hispanic countries, the volatile relationship between these two institutions in Cuba has been marked by years of tension, conflict and intolerance. This curriculum unit seeks to identify the characteristics and implications of that often turbulent relationship, as it encourages students to broaden their knowledge and understanding of a society whose cultural products and practices differ from their own in many ways.

Designed to be easily adaptable, this unit may be customized to meet the needs of Spanish and/or Social Studies classes of various levels. The activities that accompany the unit require students to rely heavily upon communications skills, both written and verbal, and encourage the use of higher order thinking and analytical skills. For intermediate and advanced level Spanish classes, some of the activities contained in this unit can be presented as content-based lessons in the target language.


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Religion in the Public School Classroom
Beverly Ralston

When we stop to examine religion in American society, there are many statements that could be made. America is a country that contains a diverse population; therefore there are a variety of religions as well. Yet, when we look at our public schools, which in some cases are diverse populations too, there is very little or nothing discussed in classes about religion. Even though the United States was founded on strong religious beliefs, religion is not discussed in the classroom. Why is it as public school teachers, we shy away from that subject? Not only as teachers, but as lay people too, we believe that if we start a conversation about religion, it could turn into a national debate or a heated argument. Debates are situations we try to avoid at all costs. As public school teachers we would not want to have a debate about the merits of different religions in the classroom, but somehow incorporate how much religion has influenced the history of America.

In the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States it declares that; "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances."

At first glance this could seem very foreign to a child. What does it mean to have the government not establish our religion for us? What does it mean to have the free exercise of religion? Why did this seem so important to the government at that time? There are some countries that do not believe in this practice. There are still some countries that you have to hide to practice your religion. If you are caught practicing other than what has been dictated, their citizens may be punished or put to death. So many times in America, we take our freedom for granted. If we did not have this freedom, then what would the religion be for this country? How would people react to what they do not believe? Would there be more murders because of one's belief? Would we need larger jails because of wanting to practice what an individual had the right to be? These questions are questions that can be investigated in the classroom without having a huge debate on the merits of one religion over another. Would our schools be as diverse as some of them are if it had not been for the freedom we now enjoy because of our forefathers' insight? It appears that so many people died for the sake of being able to practice the religion of their choosing, the founding fathers decided they wanted no more bloodshed or lives lost for the sake of religion and therefore wrote the first amendment to avoid such troubling injuries and deaths. Should we be grateful to our forefathers for saving future generations from civil wars for the sake of religion? It could definitely be verbalized. For whatever one believes, one has the utmost right to practice it.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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