Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
Public schools, as government institutions, must be
religiously neutral. They must be neutral among religions,
and they must be neutral between religion and nonreligion.
This understanding grows out of the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court
since 1947, the year in which the Court set forth the neutrality concept in the
case of Everson v. Board of Education. The concept has since been the
criterion of settling court cases on the relationship of religion to government
and to the public schools.
Public schools are not to privilege one religion over
another. Neither are they to privilege religion generally
Public school educators who teach about religion can respond to the
challenge of neutrality by endeavoring to ensure impartiality in their own
actions and a comparable academic objectivity in their school curriculum. In
dealings with students and by their selection of instructional content and
method, they can avoid endorsing any position of belief of conscience as
being more salubrious than another. Teachers can take care that the overall
curriculum and instruction does not inadvertently advance any particular
religion over others or evidence favoritism for a religious or a nonreligious
It should be noted that the various beliefs of conscience and religious
traditions will not have equivalent cultural legitimacy (the community and
larger body politic will find some far more acceptable than others). And, a
teacher will not, by acknowledging their existence and teaching about them,
thereby deem the various worldviews to be equally valid.
Neutrality does not demand equivalence in terms of the acceptability and/or
the validity of the outlooks and traditions. Rather, the point of religious
neutrality in public education is two-fold:
(1) acknowledging the actuality of the various convictions, and
(2) ensuring justice to the adherents within the secular school.
Corrections and comments invited. [last modified: 4/30/01]
Authors: Mynga Futrell, Ph.D. and Paul Geisert, Ph.D.