Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
in Classroom and Curriculum
Guidelines by Objectivity, Accuracy and Balance In Teaching
About Religion (OABITAR)
Public schools are to serve ALL students.
A teacher's planning for teaching about religion
must be academically astute, constitutionally sound,
and just plain fair all the way íround!
What Makes Sense in the Public School?
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Teaching about religion, giving due academic
consideration to beliefs and practices; the role of religion in history and
contemporary society, and religious themes in music, art, and literature.
BUT ... Teaching religion (indoctrinating students) is a no-no. Since
classroom teachers are representing the state, they are to inform and
explain, but not impose or advocate acceptance of any worldview. A public
school must conduct a secular program of education, presented
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Conducting studies about religion in a neutral and
academic way that cannot be interpreted as approximating or simulating
Teachers should not bias their curriculum, their materials selection, or
their instruction about religion toward their own worldview, or toward those
they favor or against those to which they are averse. Neither can they
participate in any religious activity with students nor direct or invite
students to take part in any religious activity or role play of same.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Ensuring that the overall program regarding
religion reflects a spirit of civic inclusiveness apropos to a democratic and
pluralistic society (by teaching about religion with a view to diversity that is
conducive to promoting civic harmony).
Teachers should not ignore that the U.S. is the most religiously diverse
nation in the world, that in many parts of the nation there are numerous
children from minority religious traditions as well as children from families
holding a nonreligious worldview, and that important societal
developments have drawn their impetus from persons having these
minority religious and nonreligious stances. Teaching about religion with
a view to diversity means curriculum and instruction is inclusive of
teaching about nonreligious as well as religious worldviews, and about the
role of both religious and nonreligious individuals and groups in the
history and culture of the United States and other countries.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Teaching secular values such as honesty, respect
for others, courage, kindness and good citizenship.
BUT ... teachers should not appeal to a religious base for such teaching.
They should ground teaching of civic values in an academic foundation,
not in religious or nonreligious rationale.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Voicing with students your endorsement of shared
civic values such as honesty, respect for others, courage, kindness and
BUT ...Teachers should not be injecting personal religious or nonreligious
beliefs into a discussion in an attempt to persuade students to their view or
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Considering, in an academic and age-appropriate
manner, varied religious and nonreligious (freethought) influences on art, on
music, on literature, and on social studies.
Teachers should not ignore the sway of religious and nonreligious
imperatives on culture, but neither should they emphasize one form of
influence and ignore the other. It is important that teachers not extol,
based on their own worldview rather than an academic foundation, the
presumed virtues, intrinsic worth, or cultural supremacy of religion or a
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Employing music, art, literature, and drama
material having religious themes as long as the material relates to sound,
secular educational goals and is presented to students in an academic and
BUT ... Teachers should not employ material having a religious theme
without knowing the relationship of the material to promoting a secular
program of study.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Allowing students to express their own religious
and nonreligious views, as long as such expression is relevant to the
classroom discussion at hand. [Youngsters can write to express their
personal beliefs in assignments as long as they respond to the pedagogical
criteria for the task.]
Since the youngsters in a classroom are a "captive audience," teachers
should not consent to studentsí proselytizing peers during class
discussions or expressing their views in ways that are coercive,
disrespectful, or inflammatory.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Evaluating home and classroom work by ordinary
academic standards of substance and relevance, and against legitimate
Teachers should employ sound academic criteria and not evaluate the
merits of a studentís work on a religious basis (e.g., conformity to teacherís
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Teaching about the revered scriptures of any
religion as literature, or about the historic influences of such scriptures within
a culture, if the lesson is secular, religiously neutral and objective.
Teachers must take care not to teach any religionís scriptural accounts
(e.g., a biblical rendition) as history or fact because that is promoting
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Using attribution strategies (e.g., you use such
phrases as "According to the Hebrew scriptures Ö" or "Many Sikhs
believe Ö") to safeguard against instilling your personal religious or
It is important that teachers consider the consequence for youngsters of a
teacher having articulated a belief statement without clearly and
objectively ascribing the belief to others.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Referring in class to concepts stated within
religious documents or texts in a dispassionate "third party" manner. For
example, "Adherents of ___ believe that these statements are true." Or,
"____ [the religion] maintains that Ö."
Teachers need to avoid reciting from religious or nonreligious documents
as if the stated concepts in the passages are generally recognized.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Judging ancient writings using academically sound
procedures rather than the standards of a given religion or the predominant
Teachers should not endorse as factual the events or concepts from any
religious text, no matter how widely revered.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Including in your planning for a wide variety of
stories to be read by students, tales drawn from various faiths (as long as
the selected material is presented as part of a secular program of study).
BUT ...Teachers should not use stories dominated by a given faith or
chosen selectively as classroom or assigned reading without having them
be part of a clearly defined, secular curriculum.
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Inviting a guest speaker to augment classroom
instruction and provide students a more comprehensive understanding of
the tradition or worldview under study.
BUT ...Teachers must not 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:
A. Adherents who have no broad academic understanding of their life
stance (e.g., history and development of the religion)
B. Clergy who simply cannot break from habits of indoctrination
C. Speakers who over-generalize from a limited base of understanding to
the spectrum of adherents in a religion
D. Individuals who generalize beyond their own personal experience within
a culture to adherents at large (practices often differ)
E. Speakers who apply stereotypes to adherents of other worldviews
THIS MAKES SENSE:† Using holiday themes in the context of a broader
program of studies based objectively on their academic value.
Instruction focuses on aspects such as the origin, history, and generally
agreed-upon meaning of the observance, but teachers do not use holiday
themes as a vehicle for advocating any religion or for advancing religious
Handling "Religion" in Classroom and Curriculum: What Makes
Sense in the Public School is a general guidance statement in keeping
with the thematic content of this web resource for teachers who are teaching
about religion and worldviews in U.S. public schools. Please note that
OABITAR provides it here merely as guidance and not as legal advice.
(May, 2002, revised December, 2002)