Religious Tolerance Starts with Public School

It began in Alexandra’s first grade classroom, when a classmate asked her if she believed Jesus was the Son of God.

“I told her no, I’m Jewish,” my six-year-old daughter said. “She wouldn’t play with me after that.”

We talked about how differences make us special, how if you are different from somebody else, that also means they are different from you. My wife spoke to the teacher, the teacher spoke to the class, and the incident was over – until the next time.

Religion, politics and culture intersect more today than at perhaps any other time in modern history. From the Middle East to Middle America, there is a renewed belief in belief, an unfettered resolve to follow a spiritual path. The problem, however, is we have become too focused on the destination and not the journey.

So let’s give our children something useful for the journey ahead – let’s teach them about religion, beginning in public school.

Let me be clear: I said teach about religion, not teach a particular religious belief. Teach kids about Christianity, Judaism and Islam, about Buddhism and Hinduism. Get the parents involved and continue the education at home.

We can do this without proselytizing, without promoting one view over another, without violating the Constitution. Education cures ignorance, and understanding brings tolerance. The sooner we start, the better our future becomes.

We are too late to stop the Inaugural prayer breakfast pastor who called Jesus Christ the “Lord of the United States.” Objective religious education won’t change the minds of some in the Middle East who hate America and want to eliminate Israel. And it won’t stop Sunnis and Shiites from plunging deeper toward civil war in Iraq. But perhaps providing more education about different faiths will help us reach the end of our individual journeys with greater understanding.

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