In a recent survey, college seniors were asked questions
from a high-school level test on American history.
Over 75% scored a D or below!
While the disappointment expressed by history
professors, politicians and the media over the students’ performance is
certainly justified, it was the questions on the test that I found most
Despite this country’s
proud religious heritage and the influence of religion at nearly every stage of
our history, none of the questions asked about religion.
It was as if religion had been dropped from
the curriculum. So although the survey showed that students have forgotten the
names, dates, and places of American history, they were never
expected to know the importance of religion
in shaping our country.
How did our education system arrive in this situation? It
all boils down to the separation of Church and State. In the early part of the
Church and State were not clearly
defined with regard to schools.
across America, school systems had a variety of relationships to local churches
and religious practice. Aspects of American religious history were taught in
various degrees of detail.
Then, following the end of World War II, uncertainties began
to arise concerning the appropriateness of the intertwining of churches and
The doubts continued into the
1960s when the Supreme Court ruled that schools were permitted to teach ABOUT
religion(s), but they were not permitted to teach religion, i.e., to
Thus, the Court approved
teaching of the role of religion in American history.
So it would seem that the matter had been resolved.
But not so.
The Supreme Court’s ruling banning of teacher-led school prayer ushered
in an era of litigation over religion in schools, which has continued to this
Although the controversy focuses on
religious prayer, it has spilled over into instruction about religion.
The fear of legal action has led schools to
“sanitize” their curriculum, to take mention of religion out of the curriculum.
This has not been from any fear of religion, but from the fear of being sued
and the tremendous costs that suits entail.
School district budgets are stretched as it is, without having to find
several million dollars for legal expenses.
The victory granting the ability to teach students about this country’s
religious heritage has thus been squandered by the political controversy over
So what kinds of questions should high school students,
college students, and us “life-long learners” be able to answer about religion
in our country’s past?
Here are three
true/false questions you can test yourself on:
The Puritans believed that everyone in America should have the freedom to
follow any religion and to worship in any way they chose.
At the time of the American Revolution and the founding of the American
Republic, Baptists strongly supported the separation of Church and State.
In the slavery debate preceding the Civil War, the Bible’s explicit statements
about slaves supported the pro-slavery position best.
Check the answers below and see if you don’t agree that
religion’s role in shaping American culture and history needs more emphasis at
all levels of learning, from our elementary schools to our senior
Answers: (1) false - Puritans were interested in freedom of
religion for themselves only, it was Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s founder,
who promoted religious freedom for all;
(2) true - historically, Baptists have been some of the strongest
believers in the separation of Church and State, (3) true - the Bible never
explicity condemns slavery, its statements assume that slavery is a normal part