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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