It has not always been a problem to have a religious faith and still attend public school. But in some ways, that task has gotten more difficult in the last few years. Now people of faith are used to living in a world where there are a lot of different religious points of view. That leads to conflict, discussion and interaction between peoples of various belief systems and that is healthy.
But in the last few years, it seems that there have been a lot of different interpretations of The First Amendment. It seems that as many people see that part of our founding documents as being a rule that dictates freedom FROM religion as much as it does freedom OF religion.
So the question that must be confronted is not whether your child can live in a secular school where there are people who don’t like religion or have other faiths. But that is part of training your child for life to be able to be who they are which might be different from who other people are. The real issue is whether at the administrative level schools are becoming more oppressive so much so that people of faith are being forced to go “into the closet” and hide their values and their religious beliefs.
From the perspective of a parent of a family of faith, the decision about whether to try to work it out with the public school system so your kids can enjoy all the benefits of public school and still maintain their faith with some integrity versus going down the private school route is a tough one. Large public schools do have much more diverse programs and better facilities than small faith based private schools can afford. A big public school often has very well developed physical education, sports programs and gym facilities. The academic diversity is stronger because there are so many more students to offer courses for.
These are all big pluses for your kids. And kids don’t always like the idea of being separated from the rest of the population just because they have a religious faith like they were lepers or somehow not acceptable because of their religion. But that is the message that is often passed to youth who not only are devout in their beliefs but live those beliefs out without shame.
To even have a religious study or prayer time at school is often attacked as somehow violating the separation of church and state. Of course anyone who understands that part of our legal system knows that The First Amendment simply restricts congress from passing laws that violate that separation. There is nothing in The First Amendment that says that individual citizens cannot be people of faith and that they cannot openly exercise their faith. In fact, that is what The First Amendment was written to protect.
There are some values to moving your kids to religious based private schools to consider as well. These kinds of schools often offer a good variety of faith based classes where your child can get credit for studying religious documents or learning elements of the faith such as worship or religious music studies. And because the school is private, prayer and open exercise of the religion is not only encouraged, it is included in the curriculum in the classroom, at assembles and in every aspect of school life. Your kids may be able to enjoy a school experience with other kids from their temple or church and not face all of that conflict that becomes so tiresome in the public school setting.
So it’s a decision that will take some thought, prayer and discussion. But you do have options about the lifestyle you want your kids to experience in their school lives. And it’s always good to have options.