Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Religious Meetings in Public Schools

When I went to (public) high school, a Christian student group called Maranatha. met in our history teacher's classroom at lunch. It was a student-led, but teacher-sponsored, group as all clubs had to be. I was convinced this was illegal and had many private tantrums about it, mostly because it took away my lunching companions.

The Anti-Defamation League has some very helpful information on the Equal Access Act, which proves me wrong. In short, the Equal Access Act requires that public schools treat all student-initiated groups equally, including religious groups. So if the school board allows school facilities to be used for any student-led, non-curriculum related group, it must be open to all non-curriculum groups, including religious ones.

I mention Maranatha because it's presumably an example of respectful pluralism, meaning that all students were treated with equal dignity and respect and could hold meetings, meetings were voluntary, meetings allowed for a significant degree of religious expression, and there wasn't any significant coercion or degradation of others.

Yet I'm a little uncomfortable endorsing Maranatha as an example of respectful pluralism. This public school had a vocal conservative Christian majority (?), so the degree to which there was actually "pluralism" at the school isn't clear to me. While I wasn't coerced into attending meetings, I was certainly invited frequently (I said no). I did hear that I was prayed for at the meetings, which suggests not exactly "degradation," but that my own religious beliefs were not necessarily held in the same esteem as those of the Christian group members.

Art from Christian Clipart and more to come on religious meetings in the workplace....