Defending The Practice Of Religion In Public Schools

1339 words - 5 pages

In her article “Beyond the Wall of Separation: Church-State in Public Schools”, Martha McCarthy, a Chancellor Professor and chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, makes it clear that her aim is to inform educators of the legal history and constitutional precedents of the Establishment clause and Free speech Clause of the First Amendment with an attached understanding of how educators should implement these findings. She summarizes and analyzes key Supreme Court rulings over the course of the 20th century as they pertain to religious expression in public schools. She clarifies the usage of both the Establishment Clause and the Free Speech Clause, including recent changes in trends that have been noted in the Supreme Court during the last decade. From the late 1940’s to the 1990’s most Supreme court rulings focused on the Establishment Clause to the increasing exclusion of the Free Speech Clause such that students were increasingly limited in the ways they were allowed to express themselves in school even in a private manner. In recent years, however, it has been noted that forcing students to suppress their religious expression is itself a religious statement and one that denies the role of religion in people’s lives. McCarthy notes that the public schools must take a neutral stand in relation to religion such that they do not defend or deny its role in people’s lives, either directly or indirectly.
McCarthy’s claim is that educators are responsible for ensuring that religious indoctrination sponsored by public servants such as teachers and schools does not occur but at the same time that no teacher or school unduly interferes with student’s rights to practice their faiths. McCarthy thus makes two subclaims, one for the separation of church and state at an institutional level and the other for the rights of the individual to practice their faith as they choose.
To this end, McCarthy first shows how the Establishment Clause has been used to defend the separation of church and state in the schools though the provision that schools and teachers cannot sponsor religious activities in the schools. Such sponsorship represents a misuse of educational authority to guide students into a particular religious tradition through the condoning of it in the schools. As McCarthy describes, “The legal precedents of cases passed by the Supreme Court that support this claim, beginning with her recitation of the 1947 case in which the Supreme Court first used the Establishment Clause to decide that public schools should not and could not constitutionally extend public monetary aid to religious schools (715). Furthermore, McCarthy points out that the second and third most significant rulings came in the early 1960’s when the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not constitutionally sponsor daily prayer or Bible reading in the schools (McCarthy 716). The second claim that McCarthy clarifies is that the...

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