Killing the Future; a Major Study Finds Religion Vital to American Democracy, Yet an Assessment of Textbooks Shows Deep Bias against Religious Matters

Article excerpt


One of the country's leading think tanks, generally considered liberal to moderate in political orientation, has published a surprising report, "Religion in American Public Life." Indeed, many of us with generally conservative theological views were happily stunned by some of the findings.

"In a highly mobile and heterogeneous society like the United States," the report said, "the values based on religion are even more essential to democracy than they may be in more traditional societies, where respect for freedom, order, and justice may be maintained for some time through social inertia or custom."

Here's another bit: ". . . [G]overnment depends for its health on values that over the not-so-long run must come from religion."

And one more: "The key role of religion in maintaining the health of democracy gives all citizens, including those who are themselves without religious faith, a large stake in the way churches carry out their roles in secular society."

The report argued that the stability and strength of American democracy depends on the underpinnings of religion. The report--actually a book--written by A. James Reichley, a quiet, very decent, and sharp-minded scholar with the Brookings Institution, and the former editor of Fortune magazine, deserves consideration by leadership in all segments of the nation. The Brooking Institution is to be commended for sponsoring it.

In an interview held a few weeks before the Brookings report was released, Reichley said: "I think there has been a movement away from some of this religious orientation, and there are other forces at work in our society--not all of which are necessarily hostile to religion, but which promote values that by their nature pull away from the traditional religious orientation of the United States." Reichley was not attempting to single out a particular part of society in that remark, but he did "zero in" on actions of the courts that "seem to try to insulate society and the schools against any effect by religion." This movement away from religious orientation needs to be examined in light of another serious, well-documented study, sponsored by the National Institute of Education.

Written by Paul C. Vitz, a professor at New York University, the report was verified by independent evaluators. Vitz, the principal investigator, and others had set out to carefully examine a representative sample of widely used public-school textbooks. Their goal was to find out how religion, social and political issues, and traditional values are represented there.

Not one of 40 social-studies textbooks used in grades one through four had a word of text that referred to any religious activity representative of contemporary American life. No text referred to any present-day American who prays or participates in worship, nor did it in any other way represent active religious life. And these books' specific function was to introduce students to contemporary American society. …