Today is “National Separation of Church and State Day” — which marks the 1963 Supreme Court decision that said bible reading in school was unconstitutional. The head of the University of Northern Iowa Philosophy and Religion Department says the issue continues to be continually challenged 40 years later. Betty DeBerg says it still breaks down to two sides — one side which doesn’t want public schools to be completely devoid of public values. She says that’s one of the reasons she believes people want prayer in the schools — it somehow combines their religious traditions with the schools. Then there’s the other side. She says people who’re nervous and oppose religion in schools, say people who want religion in school are upset if there’s something other than their religion and wouldn’t be happy with a religion in the school that’s not their own. DeBerg says she believes there’s a place for religion being taught as part of a social studies curriculum. She says you could teach about a range of religious holidays without forcing the choir to sing Christian Christmas carols. DeBerg says it’s important to teach about religion. She says religion is an important part of human history, it’s one of the mainstays in cultures, it’s one of the ways of understanding cultures and families. She says religious traditions have contributed to art, music , literature and theatre in many important ways. DeBerg says teaching religion could be an important learning tool for all of us. She says it’s “interesting” to think of all the ways public education could enhance everyone’s understanding of religion, while staying out of the fray of saying which religion is best. DeBerg says the pending Supreme Court case that will take up the issue of including the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance is important in the discussion of religion in schools. She says everyone has the right to ask “Why?” in the decision to include the pledge in the school day. DeBerg says she won’t try and predict how the high court will rule on the pledge issue.
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