Teaching about Religion ... and Nonreligion

Article excerpt

In 1987, the California State Board of Education adopted a History/Social Science Framework which ordered comprehensive improvements in the teaching of history and social science. For the first time, the study of religion - particularly Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism - became a required part of California's sixth, and seventh-grade curricula.

In 1990, a report to the California State Board of Education was filed by Objectivity, Accuracy, and Balance in Teaching About Religion, Inc. - a coalition of humanist and atheist organizations, including the American Humanist Association. OABITAR's report, and subsequent correspondence, argued that, because both the History/Social Science Framework and the textbooks publishers submitted that year for board adoption showed a manifest bias for religion and against nonreligion, the board's action was unconstitutional. Various First Amendment decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld the view that not only must government show no favoritism for one religion over another but also that it must show no favoritism for religion over nonreligion. OABITAR further argued that the exclusion of nonreligion represented a kind of educational censorship - the effect of the religion curricula being the inculcation of a general acceptance of ideas, concepts, and supernatural beliefs common to the major traditional faiths.

The California State Board of Education was not swayed by these arguments and ignored OABITAR's recommendations - also later denied by the Department of Education. In light of that response, the leadership of OABITAR determined that it was up to the coalition to provide a resource text that could supplement the existing curriculum and also be of use to professors of university and college courses in comparative religion, instructors of training programs for public-school teachers of religion, and publishers of the textbooks used in such courses and programs. …