Virtual Voices

Silliness and sanity in schools

Religion

"Service to your religious community does not count." This is what Long Beach school district officials told Chris Rand, a high school student who spent 80 useless hours volunteering for his church's children's program. The school district makes secular community service a requirement for graduation.

It's yet another example of the "silliness" that characterizes many public schools' attitudes toward religion, said Kevin Seamus Hasson, founder and president of the Becket Fund. Hasson told WoW when it comes to religious freedom in the public schools, "It's getting sillier and saner at the same time." The courts are giving less anti-religious interpretations of the First Amendment, but school officials are still hounding religion from the public schools. And unfortunately, Hasson said, "It's not court decisions that control the day-to-day lives of the public school kids. It's the public schooled authorities."

For example, a Texas elementary school put a nickel on the front of their yearbook, removing the words "In God We Trust" so as not to offend atheists. But they included an "In God We Trust" sticker for Christians to affix to the nickel - once they got home. Hasson said cases like this "never go to court, never get a judge to rule on the constitutionality of it. If they did, the silliness wouldn't happen."

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Hasson said the problem is the view, "Religion causes trouble and the way to avoid trouble is to avoid religion." He said the solution is to see religion the same way we see ethnicity and race - with the recognition that it's a part of kids' identity and daily life. No one bans St. Patrick's Day cards or African- American History Month, Hasson said. So why replace the Easter bunny with the "Special Bunny"?

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