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Columbia Education Center
Social Studies



Mary Ann Reichert, Annunciation School, Denver, CO

AN APPROACH TO TEACHING RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

Appropriate for grades 9-12.

OVERVIEW:  The United States of America is a nation founded upon
freedom.  Our Founding Fathers attempted to frame a flexible
document to live through the ages which would protect and promote
freedom.  It is the responsibility of the people in a democratic
society to educate their children to understand our freedom, but
also the responsibility that goes with it.  The primary focus of
this paper will be that of religious freedom.  It is a sensitive
subject area, but a critical one to developing an understanding of
our rights as United States citizens.  Students should learn to be
open-minded, independent thinkers in this area so that freedom may
be guaranteed throughout the ages.

The classroom atmosphere should be psychologically safe for all
students to express their belief systems or questions regarding
religion.  Teachers should objectively present information and
treat all students and their opinions with equal respect and
dignity.  Guidelines should be established up front on acceptable
and unacceptable behavior so students may learn to listen to
others, be open-minded in their approach, and respect different
opinions.

PURPOSE:  The First Amendment of the Constitution state that
"Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  The purpose
of this lesson is to encourage critical thinking skills and
open-minded thinking as to what our Founding Fathers struggled
with to ensure religious freedom and why it is so important to
continue this struggle.  Hopefully, students will develop some
insight as to why tension exists in this area and become aware of
their Constitutional rights as United States citizens.

Students will be encouraged to think about "What is truth?" and
how different people can have different interpretations,
traditions, cultures, languages, and, ultimately, belief systems
or religions to explain that truth.  Students will examine various
cultures and history to see how beliefs can be learned. 
Hopefully, an awareness of the importance of religious tolerance
will be developed. 

OBJECTIVES:  Students will be able to:

 1.  Identify the First Amendment which guarantees Freedom of
     Religion.  Students should be able to define the language of
     this amendment.

 2.  Identify colonies which were settled by people who wished to
     escape religious persecution.

 3.  Identify five major religions represented in the United
     States and the basic beliefs of these religions.

 4.  Identify the history and fundamental beliefs of these five
     major religions.

 5.  Identify several constitutional law cases regarding freedom
     of religion and basic information on the Supreme Court's
     decision.

ACTIVITIES:  The following activities are designed to encourage
independent thinking and create some insight into freedom of
religion and religious tolerance.

 1.  Divide the class into five groups.  Have each group pick a
     leader to role play the leader of a major religion.  Group
     members should help in compiling information for a report on
     their religion.  This report should include cultural
     information, history and the fundamental beliefs of the
     religion.  Group leaders should prepare to explain themselves
     and their views to the class than answer some questions.

     Teachers should carefully lead the discussion to point out
     similarities and differences in the leaders and guide the
     discussion so that the class gets an objective, fair
     presentation.

 2.  Set up a panel discussion to address the following issues:

     What is the difference in teaching religious beliefs and
     studying history? Should schools be allowed to teach
     religious beliefs?  Why do we have separation of Church and
     State?  Should we have prayer in our schools?  Can a
     government make you believe in God or not allow you to go to
     church?  (Teacher should guide discussion and research.)

 3.  Conduct a mock trial or debate on a prominent Supreme Court
     case in which the class has particular interest.  For
     instance, in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), there was a very
     apparent conflict between the "free exercise clause" and
     "respecting an establishment of religion".

     An Amish petitioner refused to permit children to attend
     school after the 8th grade and was convicted of violating the
     compulsory school attendance laws in Wisconsin.  The state
     must compel the Amish to act against their religious
     convictions or it must allow a special exemption from the
     general law for certain religious groups.

     Refer to the original case and discuss the arguments and how
     the Supreme Court ruled.

 4.  Have students write about situations where they feel that
     they need to have their religious freedom protected today.
     Invent hypothetical situations where your students are the
     Supreme Court judges and have them explain what they think is
     the right thing to do and why.  Should they protect the free
     exercise of religion or protect society from the
     establishment of a religion?

RESOURCES/MATERIALS NEEDED:  There are countless resources
available for information on the major religions of the world,
their leaders, culture, etc.  There are also countless resources
available on the United States' Founding Fathers, the First
Amendment to the Constitution, and Freedom of Religion.  I simply
utilized our school library and our school texts for research.  An
officer from the Denver Police Force addressed my students on
cults and devil worship.

TYING IT ALL TOGETHER:  Students need to learn to be open-minded
and independent thinkers.  They need to be taught why tolerance is
important.  Addressing freedom of religion with these activities
will encourage open-minded, critical thinking skills.  Hopefully,
students will be encouraged to grow into educated individuals who
love their freedom and are willing to accept the responsibility of
guaranteeing freedom for all.


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John Kurilecjmk@ofcn.org