Thinking 'About' Religion: The Need for Freethought in the Curriculum

By Massen, John B. | Free Inquiry, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Thinking 'About' Religion: The Need for Freethought in the Curriculum


Massen, John B., Free Inquiry


An important new book has been published entitled Freethought Across the Centuries. Written by Dr. Gerald A. Larue, emeritus professor of Biblical History and Archaeology at the University of Southern California and an FI senior editor, the book provides conclusive historical evidence that freethought and nonreligion have contributed immensely to intellectual and material progress throughout human history. Hence, freethought should be added as a separate unit in any study of religion in public schools.

In 1987, the California State Board of Education adopted History - Social Science Framework, which ordered comprehensive improvements in the teaching of history and social science. For the first time, "teaching about religion" and instruction about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are required for sixth and seventh-grade students. In a sixteen-page 1990 report to the California State Board of Education, the coalition for Objectivity, Accuracy, and Balance in Teaching about Religion (OABITAR) pointed out that both the Framework and textbooks submitted by publishers in 1990 for board adoption, showed a manifest bias for religion and against nonreligion. This is unconstitutional, because U.S. Supreme Court decisions interpreting the First Amendment hold that our government must be neutral, not merely in the middle ground between religion and nonreligion.

The exclusion of nonreligion also represents educational censorship. The explicit objective of teaching about religion thus achieves the result of inculcating in students a general acceptance of the concepts and supernatural beliefs of traditional religions, because students have been prevented through educational censorship from becoming aware of and understanding alternative nonreligious concepts.

The Religious Right has launched an intense and comprehensive long-term campaign to destroy our public education system, to Christianize all education, and to destroy the First Amendment "wall of separation" between government and religion. Destruction of that wall will surely lead to loss of other constitutional liberties.

Those who have objectively studied the history of Christianity know well the adversity it has wrought upon humanity. The establishment of Christianity, beginning a new evolution of theology, arrested development of the physical sciences for over fifteen hundred years.

In his Memorial and Remonstrance of 1784, James Madison recounts the "influence [of] ecclesiastical establishments ... on Civil Society" in this way:

In some instances they have been seen erecting a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people.

Our First Amendment freedoms of and from religion have generated unparalleled religious freedom in the U.S., but modern television and radio marketing of Christian dogmas have created an appalling state of public opinion.

Secularism is the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs and public education. If governments are not secular in their policies and practices, the rights of everyone, especially those in the freethought community, are at risk. Thomas Jefferson described this value with his now famous metaphor - "a wall of separation between church and state. …

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