Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
To inform about religion through
class presentations and
discussion, by employing media in
instruction, and by assigning
readings and research.

To use videos of adherents'
conduct in order to inform students
about the customs, traditions and
worship practices that attend a
given religion or worldview
orientation. [3Rs]

To conduct classroom
discussions concerning religion in
an environment that is free of
advocacy. [TGRPS]

To permit students to express
their own religious and
nonreligious views, as long as
such expression is germane to the
discussion. [TGRPS]

To ensure that you do not endorse
or disapprove religion, neither
promoting nor denigrating it.

To guard against injecting your
personal religious beliefs by
means of strategies such as
"teaching through attribution" (e.g.,
you use such phrases as "Most
Buddhists believe …" or
According to the Hebrew
scriptures …
"). [TGRPS]

To say, when referring in class to
concepts stated in religious
documents or texts, "Adherents of
___ believe that these statements
are true." Or, "____
[the religion]
maintains that…"

(at high school levels) To present
a brief statement of personal
belief, if asked by the class to tell
your religious beliefs [TGRPS].

Considering the age of the
students, to answer the question
straightforwardly and succinctlyy

not state your own religious or
nonreligious view, if asked.
Middle and high school students
may be able to distinguish
between a personal view and the
official position of the school;
very young children may not.


To avoid sharing your personal
religious or nonreligious views
with students, particularly those in
the lower grades. [ADL]

(elementary level) To use tales
drawn from various faiths as part
of a wide variety of stories read by
students, as long as the selected
material is presented in the
context of learning
about religion.

To use religious symbols,
provided they are used only as
examples of cultural or religious
heritage, as a teaching aid or
resource. [TGRPS]

To display symbols on a
temporary basis as part of the
academic lesson being studied.

To invite a guest speaker for a
more comprehensive presentation
of the tradition or worldview under
- Consult their school district
policy concerning guest speakers
in the classroom.
- Take care to find a speaker with
the academic background
necessary for an objective and
scholarly discussion of the
historical period and the religion
being considered.
- Advise a guest speaker of the
First Amendment guidelines for
teaching about religion in public
education and that a talk must be
academic in nature and must not
be advocating a religion.

To excuse individual students from
lessons that are objectionable to
the student or the students'
parents on religious or other
conscientious grounds (
subject to
applicable state laws-schools
enjoy substantial discretion to
excuse individual students, but
students generally do not have a
Federal right to be excused from
lessons that may be inconsistent
with their beliefs or practices
To organize activities that may be
easily perceived, rightly or
wrongly, as promoting students'
participation in a religious
practice. [3Rs]

To place students into
"role-playing" or other
participatory situations where they
will experience aspects of belief
practices that may be contrary to
their own worldview traditions.
(More information on role-playing)

To advocate for your personal
religious beliefs or to solicit or
encourage religious or
antireligious activity .[USDE]

To ask of students that they state
their own religious or nonreligious
view. [TGRPS]

To encourage students to accept
or conform to specific religious
beliefs or practices. [ADL]

To let students proselytize peers
or express their views in ways that
are disrespectful, coercive or
inflammatory. [OABITAR]

To affirmatively oppose or show
hostility to religion, thereby
preferring those who believe in no
religion over those who do
believe. [ADL-with court citation]

To ignore the consequence for
youngsters of their teacher voicing
belief statements which do not
clearly and objectively ascribe the
belief to others. [OABITAR]

Parents are recognized as having
the responsibility for their
children's religious or
nonreligious upbringing.

To recite from religious or
nonreligious documents
as if their
passages are generally accepted.

To endorse
as factual the events
or concepts from any religious
text, no matter how widely revered.

To turn an inquiry concerning your
personal beliefs into an
opportunity to proselytize for or
against religion. [TGRPS]

To inject personal religious or
nonreligious beliefs into a
discussion in an attempt to
persuade students to your view.

To reward or punish students
because they agree or disagree
with your religious or nonreligious
views. [TGRPS]

(elementary level) To use stories
dominated by a given faith or
chosen selectively as classroom
or assigned reading without
appropriate placement in a clearly
defined, secular curriculum
context. [OABITAR]

To assign or suggest use of
specific religious symbols.

To display symbols over a
prolonged time or when
unconnected to concurrent
studies. [ADL]

To expose students to an
ill-informed guest speaker or one
who is either indifferent to his/her
responsibilities to make a secular
presentation or unable to carry out
that duty.

Sample situations of concern:
- Adherents who have no broad
academic understanding of their
life stance (e.g., history and
development of the religion).
- Clergy who simply cannot break
from habits of indoctrination.
- Speakers who over-generalize
from a limited base of
understanding to the spectrum of
adherents in a religion.
- Individuals who generalize
beyond their own personal
experience within a culture to
adherents at large (practices often
- Speakers who apply stereotypes
to adherents of other worldviews.

To encourage or discourage
students from availing themselves
of an available excusal option.

To excuse a student from
requirements of studying portions
of a textbook merely because the
student objects on religious
grounds to the material. [ADL]
(See below for more information
on excusal.)
More information on role playing: Problems: (1) Role-playing prayers
and religious rituals runs the risk of blurring the legal distinction between
constitutional teaching about religion and school-sponsored practice of
religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution. (2) Role-playing also runs the risk of trivializing and
caricaturing the religion that is being studied. It is more respectful and
educationally sound to view a video of adherents practicing their faith than
having students pretending to be such adherents.(3) Role-playing runs the
risk of putting students in the position of participating in activities that may
violate their own or their parents’ consciences.
[Read the full 3Rs' advisory]

More information on excusal: Public schools can require that all
students use a prescribed set of textbooks if the books neither promote nor
oppose any religious practice. The students must only be required to read
and discuss the material and may not be required to perform or refrain
from performing any act forbidden or mandated by their religion. Mere
exposure to ideas that one finds objectionable on religious grounds does
not rise to the level of a Free Exercise claim; compelled activity would.

[ADL-with court citation 1]

1 Mozert v. Hawkins County Public Schools, 827 F.2d 1058 (6th Cir. 1987) cert. denied,
484 U.S. 1066; Grove v. Mead School Dist. No. 354, 753 F.2d 1528 (9th Cir.1985) cert.
denied, 474 U.S. 826; Williams v. Bd. of Educ., 388 F.Supp. 93 (D.C.WV.), aff'd. 530 F.2d
972 (4th Cir. 1975)

[July, 2002]