Target: U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan
Goal: Begin a program that gives students an objective and unbiased overview of world religions.
Religion is a taboo topic in schools today, despite the fact that religion plays a pivotal role in history. Although a strong wall should stand between church and state, this does not mean that schools should pretend that religion is nonexistent. Religion plays important roles in society, and many historical events and social changes cannot be understood except in light of religious context.
Not only is ignorance of world religions a cause of intellectual concern, but it also poses dangerous consequences. At the beginning of his book, Religious Literacy, the religion scholar Stephen Prothero recalls his memory of when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raided the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He describes how he momentarily thought about calling the FBI because he felt that, based upon how leader David Koresh interpreted the biblical book of Revelation, the incident would end in the burning of the compound. He reasoned that the federal government was getting advice from scholars far more knowledgeable than himself. Tragically, this was not the case. When the FBI launched an attack on the compound, members of the group set fire to the building. Around seventy-five followers were consumed in the resulting inferno, including twenty-one innocent children. Prothero laments that if the FBI had known anything about apocalyptic Christianity, the situation may not have ended in tragedy.
In addition, every American who remembers September 11th, 2001 can also recall the flagrant orgy of ignorance that ensued in the months afterward. Stephen Prothero relates the story of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was killed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by a man who thought his turban identified him as a Muslim. Mr. Sodhi was not a Muslim, but a Sikh. Prothero concludes that we don’t just need more tolerance, we also need better education.
Not only is religion a fascinating phenomenon in its own right, but ignorance of it can be downright dangerous. Please sign this petition to tell U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ensure that students in the public school system have an adequate understanding of world religions.
Dear Mr. Duncan,
I would like to see a greater emphasis placed upon the study of world religions in public schools. Religion plays an integral role in history and culture. Teachers often don’t know how to approach the topic, out of the fear of violating the constitutional separation of church and state. I propose a fact-based study of world religions within the curriculum, one which does not promote a particular religion, but which educates students on the diversity of the religions of the world and their cultural and historical implications.
I believe that when we can provide better education about the religions of the world, it will help students to become more culturally literate and to establish well-informed opinions about the role of religion within society. Furthermore, an understanding of religions helps to promote greater tolerance, and it decreases the likelihood of inter-religious violence.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Ben Sutherland via Flickr