People opposed to teaching religion in public schools argue it can’t be done without offending the devout.
Not true, say professors who have taught religion on the college level for years.
In fact, Americans need to learn how to discuss religion on civil terms, and the classroom is a good place to start, they say.
“We as a nation have to face up to the fact that we have not dealt justly and fairly with religions,” said Nicholas Piediscalzi, director of a California program that helps schools teach cultural diversity, which includes the world’s religions.
Adam Raley, the head of Eastern Washington University’s religion program, said he teaches religion a lot like art.
“Just like art, religion is something people have been doing since the dawn of consciousness,” Raley said.
Whitworth College Professor Jerry Sittser said he takes pains to present each religion in the best possible light.
“That doesn’t mean I leave out the dark sides,” he said.
For example, when he teaches Islam, he presents Muslims as they would present themselves, including the historical background, the five pillars of faith and facts about Mohammed. But he also includes Islam’s view of women - including the practice of female circumcision.
“I want to be fair, to give all sides,” he said.
Piediscalzi said schools in California that use the same approach rarely have any controversy over their curriculum. “If you ensure fair treatment for everyone, there is no problem,” he said.
Does that mean biology teachers should devote time to creationism, when they teach evolution?
Many experts say yes. If both evolution and creationism are taught with an unbiased approach, students can decide what to believe.
“I don’t think anyone thinks that public high schools and junior highs are the place to proselytize,” Sittser said. “But you can’t really teach fairly if you don’t deal with religion, because it’s a major part of the story of civilization.”