Op-ed: America’s public schools need religion

In the past fortnight, the wrong-headed notion known as the “separation of church and state” saw two defeats amid one win in court. But the truth is, students need a dose of religious…

In the past fortnight, the wrong-headed notion known as the “separation of church and state” saw two defeats amid one win in court. But the truth is, students need a dose of religious virtues.

While the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against a Catholic charter school, Louisiana mandated the Ten Commandments be displayed in every classroom, and Oklahoma announced it would require the Bible to be taught as an “indispensable historical and cultural touchstone” in its classes.

Naturally, these decisions about biblical content in schools sent the media into a tizzy about “Christian nationalism” and religious indoctrination.

Even some people of faith aren’t enthused by the idea of public schools promoting the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.

After all, isn’t that dangerously close to the government establishing a religion, which the First Amendment strictly forbids?

I think that’s the wrong question to be asking. 

The purpose of religion – as a social institution – is to impart morality and encourage virtues: generosity, honesty, and justice, to name a few.  

In short, religion impels us to do what is right without any hidden or self-seeking motives.  

What society doesn’t want more politicians and lawyers and businessmen like that?  

And if those are the sort of citizens we want, where are we going to nurture them if not in our public schools? 

Currently, 90% of K-12 students attend a public school. Meanwhile, almost 60% of families report seldom or never attending church – and that statistic is steadily rising. 

The plain reality is that if religion is divorced from public life – and especially from public schools – future generations will have no philosophical foundations on which to flourish, either individually or collectively.  

They may have religious platitudes, but those are very different.  

Little Johnny may refrain from hitting his friend at recess because it “isn’t nice,” but it would be infinitely better for Johnny to defend his friend from a bully because he desires to be loyal and brave. 

In his famous essay of education, “The Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis points out the tragic irony of an education devoid of real virtue:  

“We make men without chests [magnanimity] and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” 

So, if we want children who don’t lie, steal or talk back to their mother, maybe we should teach them the Ten Commandments. 

If we want tomorrow’s leaders to be philanthropists who don’t just line their own pockets, government officials who tell the truth, law enforcement officers who defend the innocent, and social workers who show compassion to the underprivileged, then schools must teach students about the religion which promotes – and even requires – charity, truthfulness, and selflessness.  

Otherwise, we can’t be surprised if throwing the Bible out of public schools turns our society into a house built on sinking sand.