Efforts to push Creationism as science in public schools have been legally blocked here in the United States, due to our Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion. So, Creationists have come up with new ways to insert their Christian dogma into public school curricula. They’ve refashioned Creationism as Intelligent Design, and they’ve come up with the idea that kids somehow have the need to be taught about the Christian Bible, in religious education classes.
If these classes taught about all religious traditions equally, and without bias, there wouldn’t be a problem. However, in most cases, the purpose of these classes is to teach Christianity, using local government resources to do so, often to the children of non-Christian families.
A new case from outside the United States illustrates the dangers of establishing these religious education courses in government-run schools. In Queensland, a program of Religious Instruction was established that was supposed to create a way for students to learn about different religions without being instructed to follow any of them.
That’s not how the Religious Instruction program actually worked out. Almost all of the Religious Instruction classes ended up being taught by Christians. Under many of these teachers, Religious Instruction classes became tools of missionary work by Pentacostals who sought to teach elementary school children Creationist dogma.
When one girl asked her Christian instructor why the descendants of Adam and Eve wouldn’t all be inbred, she was told that DNA hadn’t been invented yet. Students who challenged the Creationist ideas they were taught were kicked out of the classes.
The truth is that there’s no shortage of opportunities to learn about religion. People can easily find religious groups who are eager to talk to them, to preach their message. Libraries are filled with books about religion. There is a growing shortage of gullible minds, however, as people grow increasingly non-religious.
Some Christian groups are reacting to this trend by seeking new recruits among those who remain intellectually vulnerable – children. It is unwise to allow such culturally insecure groups to control what people learn about religion. Instead, our public schools should seek to help children to develop generally competent minds, so that they’ll be able to make up their own minds about what to believe.