DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is based on research and training, and is meant as a general guide. It should in no way be construed as legal advice.
Why do teachers need to know about this?
Nowhere is the issue of the Separation of Church and State more visible than in public schools. As we enter the twenty-first century, arguments continue to rage in courtrooms and school board meetings across the country, with the constitutionality of these issues often being in question all the way to the Supreme Court. But the wall of separation between church and state is essential to American freedoms, and it is important that public school teachers understand what it means, as well as the boundaries and expectations involved. We must be sensitive to the issues and plan with the Constitution in mind. While entire books can (and have) been written about the topic, this site is a short guide to the basics which will hopefully lead you in the right direction.
Who else is involved?
Because of differing interpretations of the Constitution, in particular the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, Americans disagree as to the degree to which the government can become involved with religion. Generally, those with a broad interpretation, often called separationists, believe in strict separation, and that the government should give no preferential treatment to religion whatsoever. Those with a narrow interpretation believe that religion cannot get preferential treatment from the government but that religion should be allowed in public life. Those who take a literal interpretation are known as accomodationists, and usually believe that, while the government cannot establish a state religion, there is no problem with the government aiding and participating in religion. People from any of these groups can be parents, school board members, politicians, and organizations, as well as teachers and students. It is important to note that separating church and government is not an attack on religion. In fact, many
separationists are deeply religious people, including clergy and religious
leaders, and often come from minority faiths who fear that too much
accommodation of majority faiths limits the rights of conscience of
This website is made possible by the California 3Rs Project: Rights, Responsibility, and Respect
From the 3Rs Website:
"The majority of Californians realize that we live in the most diverse state in the nation. What most do not recognize is that
this diversity is religious as well as ethnic and racial. The U.S. is the most religiously diverse and religiously observant industrial country in the world. This exploding pluralism of belief has led to bitter culture wars. The California 3Rs Project is built on the conviction that the principles of the First Amendment are the best guide to reaching consensus on how best to educate our children amid this conflict."
The views expressed in the Teaching Behind the Wall website are those of the site's creator and do not necessarily reflect the views of the 3Rs Project or members of its Advisory Board.
What is the Viewpoint of Teaching Behind the Wall?
The author of this website is of the view that it is better to be "on the safe side" when it comes to religion in schools. Although it is definitely very important, in fact essential, that religion be taught in the proper context in history and other classes, this author believes that maintaining a separation and respect for the beliefs of students should take precedence over more accommodationist views of how entagled church and state should be allowed to become. As such, the information here may have a more separationist viewpoint than other sources on the same subject.