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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Is there a place for religion in public schools?

People attend public schools knowing that there will be no religious affirmation in the school as part of the school curriculum. This does not mean that every person attending a public school is not religious. Quite likely, most of the attendees are religious. But their religious expression is reserved for home or the house of worship of their choice.

So, insofar as any religion being affirmed, the moment that happens the school ceases to be truly public. The public nature of the school system is that no one is made to feel uncomfortable through another religion being given primacy - any religion, including absence of religion.

But that does not mean there is no room for religion in public schools.

Consider someone from a faith-based home who thanks God before and after every meal. Are we suggesting that such religious expression, recited by the child almost inaudibly at lunch, has no place in a public school? One would be hard-pressed to find a greater violation of one's free speech and freedom of religion.

It may be argued that, however unintentionally, the commitment to eliminate any form of even benign religious coercion from the public school system has resulted in some type of backlash against religious people who attend these schools. That, if true, is more than unfortunate. It is wrong and betrays a lack of understanding of what the word "public" really means.

The distinction at the root of your question seems quite clear. Public schools are public in that the school curriculum does not promote any religion or ideology over any other, yet is public in that no one is made to feel uncomfortable in that setting because of their own religion or ideology.

Public schools must be truly public, a place wherein everyone is truly welcome.


Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on  September 14, 2013

Fri, September 21 2018 12 Tishrei 5779