Sunday, March 14, 2010

TEXAS FAITH 25: What's the role of religion in public education?

Dallas Morning News,
Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Texas' State Board of Education is no stranger to controversy. One of the most watched races in the Texas primaries on March 2 was the Republican contest between incumbent SBOE member Don McLeroy and challenger Thomas Ratliff. Ratliff prevailed, in part because he campaigned on the idea that the board shouldn't get into cultural war debates over issues like teaching evolution.
The 15-member elected panel also was the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story last month. Dr. McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer who's also getting off the board, made their case in the piece that they thought America was founded by Christian leaders and put together with Christian precepts. They want students to know that so they can take that knowledge with them as they become leaders of future generations.
I'm not here to argue whether America was founded by Christian leaders and with biblical precepts. But what I would like us to debate is this issue:

What role should religion play in public education?

Read on for our panelist’ thoughts:


NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas

For this week's answer, I want to draw upon the wisdom of an associate of mine Dr. Howard Resnick. (HH Hridayananda Das Goswami)  He holds a PhD in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University. Here is how he has framed this issue:


Undoubtedly, religion has played a fundamental role in human history, and schools should not hide or censor this fact. Also, America is a diverse country with many religions, and students must know basic facts about important religions in order to function as informed citizens. This is about information, not preaching or favoring one religion over another.

At times, the court system is irrationally paranoid about curriculum. For example, some form or other of intelligent design theory is an ancient philosophical position, and not necessarily religious. Of course many religions espouse intelligent design, but the theory itself, stripped of any specific religious doctrine, clearly is a philosophical, not a religious, theory and therefore cannot be banned or censored in schools.

Finally, we know that children must learn 'values' in school or many of them eventually harm society and themselves. Yet values are metaphysical, they are not physical facts.

For example, democracy is based on a religious idea, namely equality. All of empirical science tells us that equality is nonsense, we are all unequal -- artistically, athletically, intellectually, financially etc etc. Yet our entire political and social system is based upon a metaphysical belief for which there is no 'scientific' evidence -- equality of all people.
Thus certain moral and ethical principles are necessary to have a civilized society at all.

Again, the fact that this or that religion also teaches it does not make it automatically
'religious' in nature."

Hare Krishna :)
Your humble servant,
Nityananda Chandra Das
To see all the responses from the Texas Faith Panel click here

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