Staff writer Rebecca J. Barnabi has written a piece on a Staunton woman who is leading an effort to get the city school system to revisit the decision eliminating Weekday Religious Education, a weekly volunteer-led program with a curriculum presenting a narrow, conservative Christian worldview.
As Barnabi notes in the piece, students in localities that have active WRE programs – locally, Augusta County and Waynesboro still do – can opt out of attending the classes, which typically run 30 to 45 minutes a week.
The opt-out is key here from a legal perspective, though I can say, from experience, as a former student in the Augusta County school system, there is a ton of peer pressure against opting out.
One kid in my class, a boy named Jerome, opted out, and I remember him being treated like an outcast because he did.
My family wasn’t the religious sort, and I wasn’t then and am not to this day, but I still attended, entirely because I didn’t want to be another Jerome.
That said, the Supreme Court this week ruled in favor of a former high school football assistant coach who said his contract wasn’t renewed because he had led prayers after games that students and student-athletes regularly participated in, despite protests from former players and parents that they had felt pressure to join in.
The separation of church and state, indeed, is back to eroding.
I think a good response from our General Assembly would be to embrace the new environment and create a new religion curriculum that goes full steam ahead.
The model should be akin to one I created for myself as a student at the University of Virginia.
I took classes on the history of Christianity, Eastern religions, the Old and New testaments taught as literature, Islam, Judaism.
One could also throw in Native American theology, a survey of religions in Africa, atheism.
I know for me, the exposure to the breadth of religious beliefs out there made me realize how similar we all are deep down.
This is the reason I’m uneasy about these carveouts for one narrow religious worldview.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with what any individual or group chooses to believe about the world.
It’s when they use public resources to advocate their singular worldview that the matter becomes one worth debating.
And while WRE presents itself as a volunteer effort, it uses public resources to its advantage.
There’s a clear and obvious reason they want to be able to use our public schools for their recruitment efforts: the kids are all in one place, making it easier for them to market what they’re doing, and eliminating any costs in terms of transportation.
If the good folks who run WRE want to offer religious education to kids, nothing is stopping them from inviting kids to their churches, trailers and converted school buses after school, on weekends, in the summer.
Short of WRE agreeing to expand the breadth of what it teaches in the name of its religious education, it’s not something that we need in our public schools.