There are few subjects as sensitive as religion in public schools. When people feel their personal beliefs are under attack, or, conversely, that others are trying to impose their belief system upon them, the resistance can be as hot and fierce as wildfire.
We didn't see any such reaction following last week's article about the Douglas County School District's new policy regarding religious beliefs and customs in the classroom. This lack of reaction we credit to the district's levelheadedness in drafting the policy.
Basically, the district recycled the findings of a 1980 federal case that balanced the First Amendment's prohibition of state-sponsored religion with the same provision's guarantee of religious freedom.
In their decision, the judges of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals married religious expression, whether a Christmas concert or personal essay, with secular education. They emphasized the importance of religion in historical and cultural development and advised public schools to cover religious materials in a careful and objective manner.
We agree with the general line of reasoning. When adults finally weigh the issue, they should be confident enough in their own beliefs to accept that not everyone will believe what they do. Public schools should be neutral zones, not where religion is hidden away or relegated to some musty corner, but where students are allowed to flourish intellectually, question their values in lively but respectful debates, and, when ready, express their beliefs without fear of retribution.