Are Utah social studies standards doing their job?

Teaching freedom of religion in grades K-6

October 29, 2020

This is part 2 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 K-6. While there are United States Government and Citizenship standards in grades 7-12 called, there are no separate civics education standards in grades K-6.

“No person in the modern world can be considered educated without a basic knowledge of all the great religions of the world – Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity,” according to E.D. Hirsch, a renowned American professor and education theorist.

A fully educated person will be prepared to navigate a world where diverse religious beliefs, traditions and expressions exist. And in America, an educated individual will also be equipped to know the rights and responsibilities associated with religion as enshrined in the First Amendment.

The American Founders knew that education would need to promote understanding of the republic, the unique form of government that they had created. Thus, our public education system was born with the unique task of equipping students with the skills for living out fundamental principles of liberty. Presumably this included an understanding of freedom of religion.

The Utah State Board of Education is currently reviewing the Utah state social studies standards for elementary school grades (kindergarten through 6th grade). 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 second 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.

Grades K-2

In grades K-2, standards, objectives and indicators do not directly reference religions or outline the meaning of freedom of religion.

Promote religious literacy

No standards in these grades specifically discuss religion. Certain objectives and indicators, however, list “beliefs,” “churches” or “traditions” in parentheses as an example of some broader concept. This means that as applied in classrooms, standards may or may not help prompt educators to develop religious literacy in grades K-2.

Connect freedom of religion to other fundamental rights

There are no standards, objectives or indicators that explicitly discuss the concept of freedom of religion.

Grades 3-6

By grades 3-6, standards, objectives and indicators directly address the variety of religions in the world and also the fundamental rights of freedom of religion as protected in American founding documents.

Promote religious literacy

In grade six, one full objective is “evaluate how religion has played a central role in human history from ancient time to today. One of its indicators asks that students be able to “identify key tenets of major world religions,” and it lists as examples Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. Another objective in grade six prompts students to “explore the importance of religion in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and its relevance to modern times.” One of the objective’s indicators is to compare relations between major religions.

Younger grades have indicators that largely include an acknowledgment of “religion” in parenthesis as an example of a larger concept like “elements of culture,” influences found in Utah, or geographic or cultural differences between early colonies.

Connect freedom of religion to other fundamental rights

Grade six has two objectives that include indicators that relate religion in history to types of expression (like speech). Another objective, which explores revolutions, includes an indicator that examines how social, religious, and economic issues may lead to revolution.

The earliest direct reference to the “freedom of religion” is in fourth grade. An indicator prompts students to “Identify the rights of a citizen” and includes in its example list the freedom of religion.

By fifth grade, some indicators ask students to “explain the significance of the Bill of Rights” and to “analyze the impact of the Constitution on their lives today” and lists as an example the freedom of religion.


In general, Utah’s K-6 social studies standards ramp up as the grades increase in acknowledging the existence and impact of religion on the world’s history and on today’s culture. The standards also become more substantive about the freedom of religion in the older elementary grades. To build a foundation for one of America’s preeminent and fundamental rights, Utah standards could more substantially incorporate direct references to freedom of religion in these earlier grades.

(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


Standard 1: Students will recognize and describe how individuals and families are both similar and different.

Objective 1: Identify how individuals are similar and different


(a): describe and compare characteristics of self and others (e.g. differences in gender, height, language, beliefs and color of skin, eyes, hair).

(c): respect for each individual


First Grade:

Standard 2: Students will recognize their roles and responsibilities as citizens in the school and in the neighborhood.

Objective 3: Name school, neighborhood, Utah state, and national symbols, landmarks, and documents.


(b): Identify neighborhood and community symbols and landmarks (i.e. firehouse, city hall, churches, other landmarks, city festivals.)

Standard 3: Students will use geographic tools to demonstrate how symbols and models are used to represent features of the school, the neighborhood, and the real world.

Objective 2: Recognize and use a map or globe.


(a): Create a map showing important sites or landmarks on a school or community (i.e. firehouse, city hall, churches)


Second Grade:

Standard 1: Students will recognize and describe how people within their community, state and nation are both similar and different.

Objective 1: Examine and identify cultural differences within the community.


  • Explain the various cultural heritages within their community.
  • Explain the ways people respect and pass on their traditions and customs.

Standard 2: Students will recognize and practice civic responsibility in the community, state and nation.

Objective 1: Examine the civic responsibility and demonstrate good citizenship.


(b): Explain the benefits of being a U.S. citizen (e.g. responsibilities, freedoms, opportunities, and the importance of voting in free elections.)


Third Grade:

Standard 2: Students will understand cultural factors that shape a community.

Objective 1: Evaluate key factors that determine how a community develops.


(a): Identify the elements of culture (e.g. language, religion, customs, artistic expression, systems of exchange).


Fourth Grade:

Standard 2: Students will understand how Utah’s history has been shaped by many diverse people, events and ideas.

Objective 1: Describe the historical and current impact of various cultural groups on Utah.


(c): Explore cultural influences from various groups found in Utah today (e.g. food, music, religion, dress, festivals).

Standard 3: Students will understand the roles of civic life, politics, and government in the lives of Utah citizens.

Objective 1: Describe the responsibilities and rights of individuals in a representative government as well as in the school and community.


(a): Identify rights of a citizen (e.g. voting, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion).


Fifth Grade:

Standard 1: Students will understand how the exploration and colonization of North America transformed human history.

Objective 1: Describe and explain the growth and development of the early American colonies.


(e): Compare the geographic and cultural difference between the New England, Middle and Southern colonies (e.g. religious, economic, political).

Standard 3: Students will understand the rights and responsibilities guaranteed in the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Objective 2: Assess how the US Constitution has been amended and interpreted over time, and the impact these amendments have had on the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States.


(a): Explain the significant of the Bill of Rights.

(c): Analyze the impact of the Constitution on their lives today (e.g. freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.


Sixth Grade:

Standard 1: Students will understand how ancient civilizations developed and how they contributed to the current state of the world.

Objective 2: Evaluate how religion has played a central role in human history from ancient times to today.


(a): Explore the importance of religion in the cultural expression of ancient civilizations (e.g. customs, artistic expression, creation stories, architectures of sacred spaces).

(b): Identify key tenets of the major religions (i.e. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism).

(c): Analyze how religious ideas influence current issues.

Standard 2: Students will understand the transformation of cultures during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the impact of this transformation on modern times.

Objective 2: Explore the importance of religion in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and its relevance to modern times.


(a): Explain the influence of religion on cultural expression (e.g. the arts, architecture, government, education, family structure)

(b): Compare relations between the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and the modern world (e.g. Crusades, periods of peaceful coexistence, periods of conflict).

Standard 3: Students will understand how revolutions have had an impact on the modern world.

Objective 1: Understand processes of revolution.


(a): Examine social, religious, and economic issues that may lead to revolution.

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