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  Workshop 1: Freedom of Religion  
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Workshop 1

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Essential Readings

Study About Religions in the Social Studies Curriculum
prepared by the Religion in the Schools Committee and approved by the NCSS Board of Directors, 1984. Revised by the Curriculum Committee and approved by the NCSS Board of Directors, 1998.

National Council for the Social Studies, in its Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, declares that:

Human beings create, learn, and adapt culture. Culture helps us to understand ourselves as both individuals and members of various groups. Human cultures exhibit both similarities and differences. We all, for example, have systems of beliefs, knowledge, values, and traditions. Each system is also unique. In a democratic and multicultural society, students need to understand multiple perspectives that derive from different cultural vantage points. This understanding will allow them to relate to people in our nation and throughout the world. 1

Institutions such as schools, churches, families, government agencies, and the courts all play an integral part in our lives. These and other institutions exert enormous influence over us, yet institutions are no more than organizational embodiments to further the core values of those who comprise them. Thus it is important that students know how institutions are formed, what controls and influences them, how they control and influence individuals and culture, and how institutions can be maintained or changed. The study of individuals, groups, and institutions, drawing upon sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines, prepares students to ask and answer questions such as: What is the role of institutions in this and other societies? 2

Omitting study about religions gives students the impression that religions have not been, and are not now, part of the human experience. Religions have influenced the behavior of both individuals and nations, and have inspired some of the world's most beautiful art, architecture, literature, and music. History, our own nation’s religions pluralism, and contemporary world events are testimony that religion has been and continues to be an important culture influence. The NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies state that “Students in social studies programs must study the development of social phenomena and concepts over time; must have a sense of place and interrelationships…; must understand institutions and processes that define our democratic republic…” 3 The study about religions, then, has “a rightful place in the public school curriculum because of the pervasive nature of religious beliefs, practices, institutions, and sensitivities.” 4

Knowledge about religions is not only a characteristic of an educated person but is absolutely necessary for understanding and living in a world of diversity. Knowledge of religious differences and the role of religion in the contemporary world can help promote understanding and alleviate prejudice. Since the purpose of the social studies is to provide students with a knowledge of the world that has been, the world that is, and the world of the future, studying about religions should be an essential part of the social studies curriculum. Study about religions may be dealt with in special courses and units or wherever and whenever knowledge of the religious dimension of human history and culture is needed for a balanced and comprehensive understanding.

In its 1963 decision in the case of Abington v. Schempp, the United States Supreme Court declared that study about religions in the nation’s public schools is both legal and desirable. Justice Tom Clark, writing for the majority opinion, stated: In addition, it might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religions or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historical qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, where presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the first Amendment.

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