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Between Church And State: Religion And Public Education In A Multicultural America

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The relationship of religion and public education is, once again, a burning issue, with renewed debates about school prayer, ways to teach the Bible, and the relationship of religion and science. Though too few people know about it, battles over the proper relationship of religion to public education have gone on in the United States for as long as there have been public s The relationship of religion and public education is, once again, a burning issue, with renewed debates about school prayer, ways to teach the Bible, and the relationship of religion and science. Though too few people know about it, battles over the proper relationship of religion to public education have gone on in the United States for as long as there have been public schools. At the most basic level, the debates about the relationship are debates about the nature of democratic culture. Who defines the dominant culture of the nation? How are minority rights and traditions protected? How are the deepest, and sometimes most diverse, issues of faith reconciled with the very public and common nature of schooling? How, after all, do we find a way for the school to be the public square where respectful and informed conversation can happen around beliefs which are both deeply held and radically different from individual to individual and sub-group to sub-group? "Between Church and State" explores these issues in terms of historical context, contemporary public policy debates, and practical steps for educators and other concerned citizens.


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The relationship of religion and public education is, once again, a burning issue, with renewed debates about school prayer, ways to teach the Bible, and the relationship of religion and science. Though too few people know about it, battles over the proper relationship of religion to public education have gone on in the United States for as long as there have been public s The relationship of religion and public education is, once again, a burning issue, with renewed debates about school prayer, ways to teach the Bible, and the relationship of religion and science. Though too few people know about it, battles over the proper relationship of religion to public education have gone on in the United States for as long as there have been public schools. At the most basic level, the debates about the relationship are debates about the nature of democratic culture. Who defines the dominant culture of the nation? How are minority rights and traditions protected? How are the deepest, and sometimes most diverse, issues of faith reconciled with the very public and common nature of schooling? How, after all, do we find a way for the school to be the public square where respectful and informed conversation can happen around beliefs which are both deeply held and radically different from individual to individual and sub-group to sub-group? "Between Church and State" explores these issues in terms of historical context, contemporary public policy debates, and practical steps for educators and other concerned citizens.

30 review for Between Church And State: Religion And Public Education In A Multicultural America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steven Clark

    I sometimes think that I live in a relatively pluralistic, modern, tolerant, scientific, secular country. Yet, I know that religion is embedded everywhere, is indeed the road we walk on, all of us, even the atheists and agnostics among us. Some think that this country was founded on the Jeffersonian ideal of a high and strong wall between church and state, and others see this country as one that was founded to be - and should continue to be - a distinctly Christian nation governed by Bible-based I sometimes think that I live in a relatively pluralistic, modern, tolerant, scientific, secular country. Yet, I know that religion is embedded everywhere, is indeed the road we walk on, all of us, even the atheists and agnostics among us. Some think that this country was founded on the Jeffersonian ideal of a high and strong wall between church and state, and others see this country as one that was founded to be - and should continue to be - a distinctly Christian nation governed by Bible-based laws such as creationism, a nation that has tragically departed from these roots and laws, and so must reclaim our Christian heritage. But, as the author says in the introduction, “to say that the nation is more secular or more religious misses the point … the people of the United States are [now] more secular, especially in their public culture, more religious in many different private forms, and more diverse than ever before in the nation's history” (p.4) And the overwhelmingly common tendency to oversimplify things is unhelpful: “only a careful and thoughtful historical analysis of the many different ways that different generations and different citizens have approached [questions of religion and education] in the past can inform the current debate that must be rich, nuanced, and filled with intellectual curiosity and compassion” (p.4). Fraser certainly offers just such a careful and thoughtful historical analysis in this fascinating and very readable book, in which he makes it clear that there has never really been any consensus about what separation of church and state means. Here are a few fun facts from Fraser’s history: 1) Just <~200 years ago in this country: * Maryland still prohibited Jews and atheists from office (p. 20). * Catholic students in public schools suffered corporal punishments for refusing to read a particular translation (KJV) of the Bible (p. 49). * Anti-Catholic rallies took place in Catholic neighborhoods in Philadelphia (p. 50). * We still had state religion. Massachusetts had its state church until 1833. It was only with the 14th Amendment in 1868 that the protections of the Bill of Rights were applied to the states, and not until 1947 (!) did the US Supreme Court specifically apply the religion-clause to the states (and in 2014 [!!!] two Supreme Court justices, Thomas and Scalia, challenged even that interpretation!) (p. 18). 2) It was not until 1978 (within my own lifetime!) that Congress finally declared that First Amendment rights did, in fact, apply to Native American Indians (p. 103)!!! 3) Even today, strikingly, there are attempts to teach creationism in public-school biology classes (in 2005, officials in Kansas changed state science standards to enable ID [ie, creationism] to be taught with evolution in biology classes [p. 1]). It is alarming to me that this is still debated, when it is clearly (to me at least!) prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, not to mention the Supreme Court. 4) There have been at least 4 recent failed efforts to amend US Constitution or other legislation in support of public-school prayer: i. November 1995 by representative Ernest Istook, Republican of Oklahoma ii. February 1994 by Senator Helms of North Carolina and Senator Lott of Mississippi iii. June 1998 when a majority of the House of Representatives voted in favor of the proposed Religious Freedom Amendment iv. 1964 by congressman Frank Becker of New York. It is striking that those supporting these attempts feel so very threatened – by, for example, the worry that God is being “thrown out” of the schools – that they feel such a pressing need for this legislation, despite the fact that the Constitution already allows – indeed protects – school prayer insofar as it protects expression of religion (eg, students praying in school, bringing their scripture to school, etc). What seems clear to me, but not to those supporting these legislative attempts, is that the First Amendment prohibition against government establishment of religion does not mean that God has been expelled.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joel Martin

    So full of interesting context I didn't know. Gave me a new understanding of how complex these debates really are, and interestingly enough, gave me a net gain in sympathy for the religious side of things. And I'm still very against state sponsored religion or theocracy, but there is a case to be that we have at times been too dogmatic in the other direction, forgetting that the separation of church and state is just as prohibitive of the state restricting personal religion as it of promoting it So full of interesting context I didn't know. Gave me a new understanding of how complex these debates really are, and interestingly enough, gave me a net gain in sympathy for the religious side of things. And I'm still very against state sponsored religion or theocracy, but there is a case to be that we have at times been too dogmatic in the other direction, forgetting that the separation of church and state is just as prohibitive of the state restricting personal religion as it of promoting it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rhea

    Fraser gives a historically relevant and generally compassionate depiction of the state of religion in the public school system. Highly recommended for all educators + leftists (like myself) who are perpetually annoyed with the religious right!

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Brangoccio

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Everything makes sense now.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chelsey L

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anton Sorkin

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Klein

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carol Tilley

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  12. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Saidel Goley

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

  16. 5 out of 5

    CaroKilia

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cse Mrtn

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Chou

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Wagers

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abby Sufle

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rhee-Soo

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Xochitl

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sachel Josefson

  29. 5 out of 5

    Renee

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael

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