Teaching About Religion Policy

ING policies relating to teaching about religion in school adhere to the principles derived from the doctrine of separation of church and state by following the guidelines provided by the First Amendment Center. The First Amendment Center is an organization that informs educators how to teach about religion in schools in a manner consistent with the religious clauses of the First Amendment.  ING has adopted and integrated these policies in its content and speakers training.

The following are answers to common question relating to ING’s policies when teaching about religion in public schools.

1. Why does ING teach about world religions and in particular about Islam and Muslims?

ING upholds the belief that understanding world religions is critical in understanding world history. This is in line with California Public Schools History-Social Science Framework #14, 2005, under guidelines for implementing content standards adopted by the California State Board of Education, which state: When studying world history, students must become familiar with the basic ideas of the major religions and the ethical traditions of each time and place. Students are expected to learn about the role of religion in the founding of this country.

ING’s goal in teaching about Islam and Muslims is to supplement California State Board of Education content standards for history and social studies in 6th through 12th grades as it relates to studies of Islamic civilizations in the Middle Ages; nation building in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia; the Atlantic Slave Trade; American immigration policies; and the fundamental values and principles of civil society and the historical role of religion and religious diversity.

In contemporary social studies the study of Muslims post-9/11 is important for reasons similar to those for studying the Holocaust, ie. in order to counter a growing Islamophobia that, like anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, has demonized all Muslims. ING believes that a better understanding of Muslims and their faith will result in a more peaceful, tolerant, and harmonious society and will reduce extremism and violence worldwide.

2. How does ING teach about world religions, and in particular Islam?

ING teaches about world religions, including Islam, in the context of religious pluralism and in accordance with First Amendment Center guidelines. The ING Speakers Bureau programs base its guiding principles upon the First Amendment Center publication, A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools. This guide is based upon the principles outlined in Religious Liberty, Public Education, and the Future of American Democracy, a document produced by a group of educational and religious organizations. Principle IV of this document states:

Public Schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect. Public schools uphold the First Amendment when they protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or none. Schools demonstrate fairness when they ensure that the curriculum includes study about religion, where appropriate, as an important part of a complete education.

This principle supports ING’s mandate to provide academic presentations on Islam and the Muslim world to complement social studies and world history curriculum in schools. To this end, ING trains, tests and observes volunteer speakers on their knowledge of the content they present and their understanding of their role in the classroom. As part of their education, ING speakers are trained to uphold the ideals and principles of the First Amendment and pledge to:

* Provide an academic view of Islam’s place and impact on world history as one of the major religions studied.
* Honor the trust of the host organization and provide education about religion within the contexts of world history and social sciences.
* Provide accurate and balanced information relating to Islam and Muslims.

Adherence to these guidelines has ensured nearly 25 years of successful partnerships between ING and public and private academic institutions.

As expressed by Dr. Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center, What is most impressive about ING is the careful First Amendment Center [separation of church and state] training given to every speaker, especially those who give presentations in public schools.

3. What are the First Amendment Center guidelines that ING follows when teaching about religion?

ING’s guidelines are adopted from the principles of the First Amendment Center. They include the following guidelines, which are emphasized in ING’s training and certification of speakers and listed in ING’s training manual: When delivering ING presentations or when representing the organization in any capacity, ING speakers and panelists shall adhere to the following First Amendment Center policies and guidelines for speaking about religion in the public square.

ING policies for speaking about religion in the public square are as follows:

1. The role of speakers and panelists in the classroom is to serve and support the teacher(s) in his or her effort(s) to teach the curriculum relating to world religions. Speakers and panelists shall follow ING-designed content that was created to supplement the required curriculum, based on specific state social studies standards.

2. In venues other than schools, presentations are tailored to fit the needs of the audience. Speakers and panelists shall follow pre-designed content that was created to supplement a particular program, whether for religious literacy or for cultural diversity or cultural competency education.

3. Presentations and panel discussions are academic (objective and neutral), not devotional (calling people to your religion). An ING speaker and panelist shall present subjects relating to his or her religion as he or she would any other religion. A useful strategy to achieve this standard is to preface most statements, especially those concerning theology, with “according to (the particular religion)’s teachings…” or “(practitioners of a particular faith) believe ….”

4. ING presentations inform the audience about religion and never attempt to impose belief in any religion or influence the audience to accept any particular religion.

5. ING speakers or panelists shall strive for audience awareness of the religion they are representing and never press the audience to accept their religion.

6. In relating their religion to other religions, ING speakers and panelists shall neither promote nor denigrate any other religious belief.

Speakers and panelists associated with ING adhere to the aforementioned policies.

4. Why is the First Amendment so important?

Because it is central to the dual principles of separation of church and state as well as the protection of religious freedom that were envisioned by the founding fathers, who saw this new nation as a beacon of light in the dark history of religious intolerance and persecution. At ING we believe that these guidelines and principles are essential to any conversation about religion in this country and continue to be critical in promoting interreligious discourse and understanding.

5. What is the First Amendment Center?

The First Amendment Center was founded on the principles enshrined in the religion clauses of the First Amendment and works to preserve and protect these freedoms by clarifying and educating the public on this subject. The Center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of issues relating to freedoms of expression, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and religion, and the right to assemble and to petition the government. Through its Religious Freedom programs, the Center helps schools and communities throughout the nation address issues concerning religion and values in public education.

For more information on this topic, please refer to “Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools, 2007 Revision” by Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas. This publication can be downloaded from the First Amendment Center website.