‘Public schools are not religion-free zones’

February 26, 2021

This is part 13 in Sutherland’s new series that seeks to examine how Utah education standards prepare students to be active citizens. In this part, we analyze current social studies standards for grades 7-12. In this review we are looking at all the social studies courses in grades 7-12, except for the required one-semester “civics course,” titled United States Government and Citizenship, which we analyzed separately. 

Being truly educated means students understand one of the most powerful forces in the world: religion.

“The religion clauses of the First Amendment guarantee the American public square is a religiously robust space, and the public school is a microcosm of the American public square,” said Eleesha Tucker, executive director of the Utah 3Rs Project. “Public schools are not religion-free zones. Nor are they places where religion is transferred to the next generation.”

Public education not only can but should approach the topic of religion and religious liberty.

The Utah State Board of Education is currently in the standards revision process for the Utah State Social Studies standards only for elementary school grades (kindergarten through sixth grade), but we think it is helpful to review our state approach to civics education at all levels of education. Sutherland Institute is seeking to understand how well Utah’s current social studies standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government. For this next review, we are specifically looking at freedom of religion.

To help assess how well the current standards help students fulfill their duties in civil society and government with regard to freedom of religion we have decided to look for two main factors: (1) How well the standards promote religious literacy (knowledge of and ability to understand the civic role of religion in societies and cultures), and (2) how well they help students understand and articulate the connection between freedom of religion and other fundamental rights like freedom of speech or association.

Social Studies in grades 7-12 except for U. S. Government & Citizenship course

How well the standards promote religious literacy (knowledge of and ability to understand the civic role of religion in societies and cultures)

The standards discuss the reality and impact of religions in a pretty significant way. Utah Studies touches on the history of the Mormon settlers and the effects it had on the area and other people in the region.

Other standards ask students to explain how the “basic tenets of world religions” affect people and their lives. Others prompt students to explain the impact of trade on the diffusion of religion, or the religious changes in medieval Europe, or the “patterns of diffusion of technology, writing, religion,” or even to discuss the separatist movement.

The World History course in particular dives into religious literacy. One standard asks students to “identify and explain patterns in the development and diffusion and syncretism of world religions and philosophies” and lists a non-exhaustive list that includes “Judaism, Hinduism, Greek philosophy, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.” One standard even asks students to consider the evidence of a “religious group” and their daily experiences. It is clear these standards aim to see religion as a powerful force in the world.

How well standards help students understand and articulate the connection between freedom of religion and other fundamental rights like freedom of speech or association

As is the case in the civics course, the standards don’t directly reference freedom of religion in the 7-12 standards. However, a couple of standards prompt students to look at “ideas” that may have influenced the Constitution or trace how the application of case law spells out the rights in the Bill of Rights, etc., which suggests a discussion of freedom of religion at some point.

Some standards relating to the origins of the Constitution and Bill of Rights are broad enough that it may encompass how freedom of religion impacts other freedoms. Likewise, one particular standard asks students to identify the conditions that gave rise to a number of different movements, including the Abolitionist movement, which was explicitly advocated for by religious leaders and congregations. Another asks students to use “case studies to document that expansion of democratic principles and rights over time.” This could easily expand into the area of religious liberty.

Conclusion

In short, Utah’s grade 7-12 Social Studies standards will likely offer students a robust introduction into religious literacy, and religion as a worldwide reality, as well as some exposure to religious liberty as a concept. The religious liberty component could be increased by connecting this first freedom to the other fundamental freedoms we enjoy and seek to protect.

(Note: What’s a “standard”? It is a broad statement of what students are expected to understand and/or know how to do within a certain discipline.

What’s an “objective”? An objective is a more focused description of what students need to know and/or be able to do within a given standard.

What’s an “indicator”? These are measurable and observable student actions that enable teachers to judge whether a student has mastered a particular objective.)

Jump to different parts of this series:

Utah Core Standards, Objectives and Indicators referenced:

Source: Utah Core Standards, Utah State Board of Education

UT Standard 2.1

Students will explain the causes and lasting effects of the Mormon migration to Utah.

 

UT Standard 2.2

Students will compare the causes and lasting effects of various non-Mormon groups’ migrations to Utah.

 

UT Standard 2.4

Students will research multiple perspectives to explain one or more of the political, social, cultural, religious conflicts of this period, including the U.S. Civil War and more localized conflicts such as the Utah War, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Bear River Massacre, the Black Hawk War, or other Federal-Mormon conflicts.

 

UT Standard 3.1

Students will identify the civic virtues and principles codified by the Utah Constitution.

 

UT Standard 4.4

Students will use data and other evidence related to a cultural, ethnic, or religious group in Utah to interpret the group’s historic/current conditions and experiences.

 

U.S. 1 Standard 4.1

Students will explain how the ideas, events, and compromises which led to the development and ratification of the Constitution are reflected in the document itself.

 

U.S. 1 Standard 4.3

Students will use historic case studies and current events to trace how and explain why the rights, liberties, and responsibilities of citizens have changed overtime.

 

U.S. 1 Standard 5.2

Students will identify the conditions that gave rise to, and evaluate the impact of, social and political reform movements such as Jacksonian Democracy, the women’s rights movement, the Abolitionist movement, and anti-immigration reform.

 

U.S. 1 Standard 5.3

Students will use case studies to document the expansion of democratic principles and rights overtime.

 

WG Standard 3.5

Students will explain how the basic tenets of world religions affect the daily lives of people.

 

WH Standard 2.1

Students will identify and explain patterns in the development and diffusion and syncretism of world religions and philosophies, including Judaism, Hinduism, Greek philosophy, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

 

WH Standard 2.4

Students will explain the impact of early trans-regional trade on the diffusion of religion, ideas, technology, and other aspects of culture.

 

WH Standard 3.4

Students will explain the social, political, religious, technological, and economic changes in medieval Europe that created a context for later European colonization.

 

WH Standard 3.5

Students will identify patterns in the diffusion of technology, writing, religion, political systems, and other elements of civilization, using case studies such as the Chinese impact on Japan, the Arab impact on Mali, the Byzantine impact on Russia, the Roman impact on Europe, and the Olmec impact on later American civilizations.

 

WH Standard 6.3

Students will explain the political ideas at the heart of decolonization, independence movements, and the formation of new political systems, such as liberation theology, civil disobedience, autonomy, separatist movements, and pan-Africanism.

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