June 2007, Volume 93, Issue 4|
Religion and Public Education in a Constitutional Democracy
93 Va. L. Rev. 1175 (2007)
The Constitution of the United States contains two of the major standards appropriate to a liberal democracy. Both are expressed in the First Amendment: one clause prohibits Congressís establishing religion; the other prohibits its restricting the free exercise of religion. The present age is witnessing an apparently increasing tension over the meaning of these clauses, and the problem of interpreting them is intensified by the possibility of their apparently supporting conflicting directives in certain situations. In the United States (which is the primary setting of concern in this essay), the problem has been especially difficult and divisive. A major current issue is how science should be taught in public schools. Evolutionary biology has been the focus of most of the controversy here, but the place of religion in history, civics, and other areas of the curriculum also raises difficult questions about how, both constitutionally and ethically, teachers should deal with either religion itself or the religious implications of their subject matter. For many years Professor Kent Greenawalt has published well-argued, influential scholarly works on the relations among law, religion, and politics. His most recent book, Does God Belong in Public Schools?, is his first full-scale comprehensive treatment of the subject of religion and education in a liberal democracy (with the U.S. as the central example). My aim here is to bring out some of its distinctive points and to discuss a number of them in the hope of promoting further inquiry into the issues and, if only indirectly, better ways of teaching in the public schools.
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