Press Advisory
For immediate release, February 7, 2002
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
California 3Rs Project Advises Against
Reenacting Religious Practices in Public Schools
Offers Guidelines and Resources for Teaching about Religion
In response to the current controversy in a number of California school
districts over the use of simulation games and role-playing to teach the Islam
Civilization unit in seventh grade, the California 3Rs Project ("Rights,
Responsibilities, and Respect") cautions teachers against using these
techniques when teaching about religions.

The California 3Rs Project is a statewide program for finding common
ground on issues of religion and values in public schools. Sponsored by the
Freedom Forum First Amendment Center and the California County
Superintendents Educational Services Association, the project offers
workshops on how to teach about religions in ways that are constitutionally
and educationally sound.

The current controversy was sparked by reports that some teachers use
activities such as having students dress up in Muslim garb, recite scriptures,
and re-enact the pilgrimage to Mecca (
hajj) when teaching about Islam.
While role-playing and simulations are often effective techniques for making
history come alive for students, the CA 3Rs Project strongly advises against
using these techniques when teaching about religions for the following

1. A complete education includes teaching about religions and is supported
and required by the California History-Social Science Framework.
Role-playing prayers and religious rituals, however, 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. (The 2003 History-Social Science
Framework is available from the CA Department of Education.)

2. Role-playing religious practices runs the risk of triviaIizing and
caricaturing the religion that is being studied. It's more respectful and
educationally sound to view a video of real Muslims practicing their faith than
having a group of seventh graders pretending to be Muslims.

3. Role-playing runs the risk of putting students in the position of
participating in activities that may violate their (or their parents')
consciences. Such an issue doesn't arise when teachers teach about
religion by assigning research, viewing videos, and through class instruction
rather than organizing activities that may be easily perceived, rightly or
wrongly, as promoting students' participation in a religious practice.

Another source of the recent controversy involves reports that teachers are
assigning students to memorize and recite passages from the Qur'an, the
sacred scripture of Islam. While it is important for students to learn about the
scriptures of the world's major religious traditions, it is essential that
teachers use scriptures in the classroom as a teaching resource and not as
a devotional activity (or an activity that "reenacts" devotional practices). In
the public-school classroom, selections from scriptures should be used only
in the appropriate historical and cultural context as part of teaching about a
religious tradition.

For guidance on the constitutional and educational issues that arise in
teaching about religion in public schools, the CA 3Rs Project recommends
that educators consult
Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious
Liberty in Public Schools
published by the First Amendment Center
available on-line.

For more information about the CA 3Rs Project, contact:

Gary F. Dei Rossi, Assistant Superintendent
San Joaquin County Office of Education
Chair, CA 3Rs Steering Committee

Bruce Grelle, Director
Religion and Public Education Resource Center
California State University - Chico

Charles C. Haynes Senior Scholar
Freedom Forum First Amendment Center