The Politics of Religion in American Public Schools

By Usra Ghazi and Benjamin P. Marcus

Every year in August and September, millions of American children return to their classrooms for the new academic year. Within weeks, the entire school community marks one of the most significant moments in American history: the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. Will schools’ service and remembrance projects of that tragic day knit together a community out of an increasingly religiously diverse country? Can education about Islam—and religion in general—move beyond platitudes on 9/11 toward a more robust education about the role of religion in social, political and cultural life?

On the surface, the outlook for strong K-12 religious studies education is bleak. A cottage industry of Islamophobic organizations has hijacked public conversations about religion and education. Anti-Muslim advocates aggressively litigate against schools accused of “Islamic indoctrination” or overly favorable coverage of Islam and Muslims. And too often our politicians and government officials only fan the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry, creating an epidemic of bullying that targets Muslim and Sikh students and an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric in public life.

Usra Ghazi is senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute. Benjamin P. Marcus is religious literacy specialist at the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute. His email address is: bmarcus@freedomforum.org.

 

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