School prayer and teaching about religion in public schools continue to be two of the most controversial and complicated issues in the U.S. today.
Organized school prayer continues to be one of the most controversial issues in the U.S. today. Many people see organized prayer in schools as a necessary part of the struggle to curtail violence, drug abuse, and other social ills that plague our nation in general and schools in particular. Yet, the danger of the entanglement of church and state is significant since public tax dollars collected from individuals of every religious faith and no religious faith finance our public schools. In June 2000, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school sponsored prayer- even if student-led- is a violation of the First Amendment.
Teaching about religion in public schools is a similarly complex issue. It would be difficult to comprehend the history of the Crusades, the art of the Renaissance, or the literary references made by Shakespeare without some understanding of the history, symbolism, or texts of Christianity. It would be difficult to appreciate the complex history of the Arab-Israeli Conflict without even the most basic knowledge of the histories of the Muslim and Jewish peoples. However, there is a fine line between teaching religion in public schools, a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and teaching about religion in public schools, which is constitutionally permissible. In Abington v. Schempp (1963), one of the many Supreme Court cases in the 1960's on the role of religion in public schools, the Court ruled that "when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education," teaching about religion can be done "consistently with the First Amendment."