Ethical Teachings of Jesus in Public Schools

1977 Church of the Brethren Statement

In confident assurance that the lives of many persons would be made richer and happier with the words of Christ engraved upon their hearts . . . Words such as “Love your enemies and do good to them who hate you . . . Give to all who beg from you . . . Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . Be compassionate to all men . . .”

The Columbia City Church of the Brethren, District of Northern Indiana, through its District Conference hereby petition Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren meeting July 27–August 1, 1976, at Wichita, Kansas, the following:

That the General Board establish a committee to study ways in which the Church of the Brethren can work for the presence in the curriculum of our public schools, both secondary and elementary, of the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ. . . . This committee to report their findings and suggestions to Annual Conference in 1977. . . .
Arthur F. Morris, Moderator; Joyce Brumbaugh, Church Clerk

Accepted by Northern Indiana District Conference, August 9, 1975, assembled at Goshen, Indiana, and passed on to Annual Conference.

Clarence B. Fike, Moderator; Mary Elizabeth Young, Clerk

Action of 1976 Annual Conference: The position of Standing Committee was presented by David Markey. The following amended statement was adopted:
“We recommend that we respectfully return the query with an expression of gratitude and appreciation to the congregation that raised the issue. However, in light of the query which is returned, Standing Committee recommends that the Annual Conference appoint a committee of five (5) to prepare a paper which will: 1) inform Brethren about what can be done and what cannot be done regarding the teaching of ethics and morals in the public schools of our country; and 2) if the findings of that committee warrant action, suggest possible next steps toward action.” The following were elected to this special study committee: Jeffrey Copp, John B. Grimley, Ronald D. Spire, Marty Smeltzer West, and John F. Young.

1977 Report of the Committee

Origin of the Study

This committee of five was elected by the 1976 Annual Conference to prepare a paper on the teaching of ethics and morals in the public schools. The study committee was formed in response to a query sent to the 1976 Conference by the Northern Indiana District Conference:

In confident assurance that the lives of many persons would be made richer and happier with the words of Christ engraved upon their hearts . . . Words such as “Love your enemies and do good to them who hate you . . . Give to all who beg from you . . . Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . Be compassionate to all men . . .”

The Columbia City Church of the Brethren, District of Northern Indiana, through its District Conference hereby petition Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren meeting July 27–August 1, 1976, at Wichita, Kansas, the following:

That the General Board establish a committee to study ways in which the Church of the Brethren can work for the presence in the curriculum of our public schools, both secondary and elementary, of the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ. . . . This committee to report their findings and suggestions to Annual Conference in 1977. . . .

Standing Committee recommended to the Annual Conference that the query be respectfully returned, and, in the alternative, that Annual Conference appoint a committee to explore the teaching of ethics and morals in the schools. In taking this action, Annual Conference directed the committee:

. . . to prepare a paper which will 1) inform Brethren about what can be done and what cannot be done regarding the teaching of ethics and morals in the public schools of our country, and 2) if the findings of that committee warrant action, suggest possible next steps toward action.

The perceived purpose behind the action of Annual Conference was to establish a committee to respond to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the present legal and constitutional situation regarding the teaching of religion and related subjects in public schools. The original query sought to study ways the “ethical teaching of Jesus Christ” could be included in school curriculum, whereas the study requested by Annual Conference seeks information on the teaching of ethics and morals. Because of the widespread concern over the query, as well as the Annual Conference directive, the Committee report will discuss both issues, teaching about religion and teaching ethics and morals.

Biblical Sources on the Instruction of Children

The Committee begins its report with a reminder and an affirmation of the sacred trust we hold in rearing our children and transmitting to them the faith we share. As the psalmist sang, “Lo, sons [and daughters] are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalms 127:3). We are enjoined to train our children properly, for the Lord says:

These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6,7).

Jesus knew so well the blessedness of children and the importance of their instruction (Matt. 19:13-15). He was quick to condemn those who distorted the teachings of God (Mark 7:9-13), and went on to say “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). Surely the greatest indication of what we must prepare our children for comes from the prophet Isaiah as he looks ahead to the coming Kingdom of God:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6).

The Committee’s report is divided into three major parts: (1) the legal setting and possible approaches to teaching about religion in the public schools; (2) the teaching of ethics and morals in the public schools in its historical setting and at present; and (3) what can be done both in local congregations and in local school communities to encourage the teaching of morals and ethics and the teaching about religion in the schools.

Legal Limitations on Religious Exercises and Religious Instruction in Public Schools

Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, a governmental agency, including the schools, may not engage in any activity constituting the “establishment of religion.” Thus, religious exercises, such as prayer and Bible reading, and religious instruction in public schools, have been prohibited by the U. S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has explicitly stated, however, that public schools may include teaching about religion, if such teaching is offered as a part of a secular educational program.

A. Legal Restrictions on Religious Practices in Schools

The controversy over the last fifteen years about prayer, Bible reading, and proposed Constitutional amendments “to put religion back in the schools” has been a response to two U. S. Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963. Under its interpretation of the First Amendment, the Court prohibited schools from engaging in religious exercises. The relevant portion of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Since 1941, the Supreme Court has held that this prohibition on Congress also extends to state governmental bodies by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Engel v. Vitale in 1962, the Supreme Court held that public schools could not encourage or require students to recite an officially adopted prayer. The Court held:

. . . Neither the fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral, nor the fact its observance on the part of the students is voluntary, can serve to free it from the limitations of the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment].
. . .

When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain. But the purposes underlying the Establishment Clause go much further than that. Its first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion . . . Another purpose of the Establishment Clause rested upon an awareness of the historical fact that governmentally established religions and religious persecutions go hand in hand.
. . .

[We] think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.

In explaining its decision, the Court reviewed the historical background of the Establishment Clause:

It is a matter of history that this very practice of establishing governmentally composed prayers for religious services was one of the reasons which caused many of our early colonists to leave England and seek religious freedom in America. . . .
. . .

By the time of the adoption of the Constitution, . . . there was a widespread awareness among many Americans of the dangers of a union of Church and State. These people knew, some of them from bitter personal experience, that one of the greatest dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government’s placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services. . . .

The Court explained that its decision did not prohibit ceremonial or patriotic exercises which include references to the Diety, such as encouraging school children to recite historical documents or singing anthems which include a composer’s profession of faith in a Supreme Being.

The Court recognized that there are many manifestations in public life of belief in God. Justice Douglas stated:

‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ . . . The First Amendment leaves the Government in a position not of hostility to religion but of neutrality. . . .

In 1963 the Court decided a second case, Abington School District v. Schempp, which held that the First Amendment prohibits state laws and practices requiring reading of Bible verses and recitation of the Lord’s prayer at the opening of the school day. The Court explained, however, that its decision did not prohibit the teaching about religion in the schools. The Court concluded:

[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. . . . [T]he Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicated that . . . study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the First Amendment. But the exercises here do not fall into those categories. They are religious exercises, required by the States in violation of the command of the First Amendment that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion.

The Court rejected the argument that religious activities should be permitted as an expression of the “free exercise” of religion by the majority of students and teachers:

While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its belief.

Although schools may not provide for or officially encourage the recitation of prayers or reading as religious exercises, schools may continue to have opening exercises for secular purposes. As explained by Justice Brennan in Schempp, schools may conduct solemn exercises, including the observance of a moment of reverent silence at the opening of class, to serve such ends as fostering harmony and inspiring better discipline among students, and enhancing the dignity or authority of the school. A federal district court has recently used this statement by the Supreme Court to uphold a Massachusetts state law requirement that classes observe a silent moment for “meditation or prayer” at the beginning of the school day.

Following these historic Supreme Court decisions, activities which schools may continue to participate in include the following:

  1. Students may continue to study religions and the Bible as historical or literary subject matter included in the secular educational program.
  2. Students may continue to participate in “released time” programs where students leave the school premises on a voluntary basis to attend religious instruction financed solely by the religious groups involved.

In spite of the Supreme Court decisions, many local communities have continued to allow or encourage prayer or Bible reading in the schools. Some state laws also remain on the books, requiring or permitting such practices. To the extent these practices and laws exist, they are unenforceable and subject to constitutional challenge by anyone in a local community who objects to this religious activity. The continued observance of these traditional customs, however, emphasizes the fact that control over schools remains primarily a local responsibility.

B. The Dangers of Any Constitutional Amendment

Many persons have been critical of the Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the First Amendment to prohibit prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Over the years, proposed Constitutional amendments to allow religious exercises in schools have been unsuccessfully introduced into the U.S. Congress. It is the opinion of the Study Committee that the framework of our Constitution has guaranteed our own religious freedom for two hundred years and any amendment may jeopardize the strict neutrality of the government in reference to any specific religious group. We believe in freedom of belief for all, and historically our denomination has sought to limit the impact of government on our own religious beliefs and practices. Recognizing this historical tension between Church and State, we do not want to find ourselves today using the coercive power of the state and the public schools to pressure anyone into participating in any religious activity. Although we may now regard ourselves as part of the American majority, we must remain zealous in protecting the rights of all minorities.

We would reaffirm the 1964 resolution of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference which stated:

[W]e do not believe that the church should be unduly alarmed by these decisions [forbidding prescribed prayers or Bible reading in the public schools.] They are in harmony with a basic doctrine which we have always favored—the separation of church and state. Therefore current movements to modify or eliminate the First Amendment seem ill-advised.

We call our people’s attention to the following considerations:

  1. The Brethren, like the Anabaptists before them, had bitter experience with state churches and government-supervised expressions of religion.
  2. Prayers or Bible reading, when prescribed by school authorities, are also government-supervised expressions of religion, mild though they may be.
  3. Because what is prescribed in these cases may happen to please us, we should not ignore the possibility that it may displease those of other faith or none. We Brethren have always held to the principle of “no force in religion.”
  4. The benefits of such formal, routine, mechanically performed exercises are few and at best do little to provide the spiritual nurture our children need.
  5. Effective Christian nurture is the responsibility of our homes and our churches. We should be far more concerned that both are meeting that responsibility than we actually are at this time.
  6. The Supreme Court has not ruled religion out of our schools. Faith is more likely to be transmitted from a dedicated teacher to his students by contagion and example than by formal exercises. Further, completely voluntary religious expressions, when not offensive to anyone’s conscience, are permissible.

We also view with concern the attempts of individuals or groups to censor or control student reading materials on the basis of religious objections. Religious censorship may be a first step towards authoritarian control. Our own religious beliefs are strengthened, not weakened, by free exchange of ideas and professions of faith. We should not be afraid that the ideas or opinions of others will destroy our faith or the faith of our children, and the best protection of our own religious freedom lies in the guarantee of religious tolerance and academic freedom for all.

Moreover, despite all the controversy caused by the Court decisions prohibiting prayer and Bible reading, these decisions say nothing about the teaching of ethics or morals in a non-religious context. Historically and at present, the schools have always sought to support the development of moral values in children and young adults.

C. Teaching About Religion Is Permissible in the Public Schools

A positive approach to putting “religion back in the schools” is to encourage the development and inclusion in school curricula of Biblical or religion studies. Courses may be offered on such topics as the Bible in history, the Bible as or in literature, comparative religions and the history of religion. In addition, religion can be discussed in the classroom whenever it naturally arises or is an appropriate aspect of the topic under consideration.

Teaching about religion is legally permissible under the Supreme Court’s decisions, and would provide a foundation or a beginning for persons who lack other exposure to religious experience or belief. Although we must carefully refrain from using the state’s coercive power of compulsory attendance at school to promote any specific religion, school may be the only point of contact which many persons have with teachers or other students who hold religious beliefs. By being exposed to Biblical literature or religious ideas, students may be encouraged to examine their own values and beliefs. The Committee will explore concrete ways of encouraging the teaching about religion in the final section of the report. The Committee now turns its attention to the area of teaching ethics and morals.

The Teaching of Ethics and Morals in Public Schools

A. The Historic Role of Education in the Development of Moral Values

The role of the public schools in the United States has undergone analyses by each generation since the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson expressed this concern when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” In an earlier democracy, Plato stated:

Youth is the time when the character is being molded and easily takes any impress one may wish to stamp on it. Shall we then simply allow our children to listen to any stories that anyone happens to make up and so receive into their minds ideas often the very opposite to those we shall think they ought to have when they are grown up. (The Republic)

The thrust of this statement implies that many shades of opinion, standards of life and conduct will beat confusedly upon the young. The Harvard report of 1945, “General Education in a Free Society,” states that the role of education should provide experiences that will help youth to think effectively, to communicate thought, to make relevant judgments and to discriminate among values.

Public schools in the United States have traditionally been concerned about the moral and ethical aspects of the educational process. Early recognition of the importance of education is found in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” In 1918 a National Committee on the Reorganization of Secondary Education published a significant study on secondary schools, listing the now famous cardinal principles of education: health, command of the fundamental processes, worthy home membership, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure, and ethical character. Here again, ethics and morals are included as a fundamental part of the educational process.

In 1944 the National Educational Policies Commission made a comprehensive study and as one of ten educational needs stated:

All youth need to develop respect for other persons, to grow in their insight into ethical values and principles, and to be able to live and work cooperatively with others.

Again, in 1966 the American Association of School Administrators in its report, Imperatives in Education, stated that one of the functions of public education was to strengthen the moral fabric of society:

Education has rarely been confronted with so many demands and with so many alternatives. What appeared to be the solid verities and certainties of the past are being supplanted by new knowledge and insight. . . . Values change but slowly, yet they are always in the making. Each generation tests the values it has inherited against new and fresh circumstances. . . . Values are feelings, beliefs and commitments distilled from human experiences that may or may not be articulately expressed. They are influenced by knowledge, by environmental circumstances, and by the relationship of people to each other.

The report further states:

The ethic of American life is based in great measure upon individual worth and dignity, initiative, freedom of choice, equality of opportunity, competitive spirit, respect for the rights of others, personal responsibility and government by consent of the governed. . . The school property, the orchestra, the schedule of classes, student government, evaluation, encouragement and restraint, opportunity and lack of opportunity—all influence values.

There is no question that every major attempt to set forth the objectives of American public education has included statements on the development of character or values. But there are questions as to the role the public schools should play, which have also been raised by each generation. In a November 1976 report by the National School Boards Association, “Do You Teach Students Right From Wrong,” wide differences in approach were reviewed, ranging from traditional school discipline and control to a more nondirective “values clarification” model. The general position of the public schools in providing experiences for the development of moral and ethical values was summarized in a 1964 report, Religion in the Public Schools, published by the Commission on Religion in the Public Schools!

Educators have long been concerned with defining and implementing the public schools’ own ethical imperatives. Their commitment to the processes and goals of education has led them to a sound distaste for “indoctrination.” At the same time there is a nearly universal consensus that the schools have an important part to play in the building of character and in the development and reinforcement of value systems that are consonant with the values commonly expressed in the larger society.

Recognizing the role of the family as the basic unit in society for the development of values, plus the very real and important contribution made by the church and other organizations, the public school is unique in that it is one of the few places where persons of many faiths and creeds come together and hopefully learn to cooperate and respect each other’s differences.

B. The Present Responsibility of the Schools in Relation to Home and Church to Teach Morals and Ethics

The Committee recognizes and approves the importance of the educational system in helping establish and transmit to young people moral and ethical values. However, the responsibility of the schools in this regard must be placed in perspective with that of other basic social institutions.

The primary responsibility for the development of moral values in children must be given to the home. The home is the basic unit in society where children begin to learn from their parents and develop their own moral values in the earliest years of life.

Second to the home, the churches and religious groups bear major responsibility for the teaching of morals and ethics. The churches must examine their own efforts and abilities to assist the development of moral values in children before insisting that the public schools pick up where parents, homes, or churches have not been effective.

Although the public schools have traditionally and will continue to stress moral development, we must carefully scrutinize the abilities of the schools to respond to the present apparent weakening of moral values in our society. The public schools are already overburdened and underfunded, with many people expecting the public schools to alleviate or make up for the loss of stability and lack of control by parents over their own children. The public schools can never repair the damage caused to children by the failure of parents to instill strong moral values in the early years of a child’s life. As stated by the Educational Policies Commission of the National Education Association in 1951:

. . . the home is sometimes a negative influence. The school cannot succeed brilliantly in teaching civic duties to a child whose parents do not take the time to vote intelligently. The school finds it difficult to teach appreciation of good literature to a child whose home bookshelves are filled with trash. The school cannot as a rule develop self-control and courtesy in a child whose home life is one long series of unrestrained quarrels and incivilities. The school cannot teach prudence to a child whose parents fritter away their income for purposeless extravagances. The school cannot successfully teach the worth of individual personality to a child who comes from a home where the adults, either deliberately or unwittingly, display religious and racial prejudices. The schools cannot teach children to respect public property if the children see their parents littering the local park with rubbish. The school cannot teach wholesome respect for religious opinions to children who come from homes which merely give lip service to their religious convictions and accept no responsibility for directing the religious training of their own children.

In spite of these limitations on what the schools can realistically accomplish, every effort must continue to be made to impart moral principles, especially to those children whose moral value systems are weak or non-existent. The most crucial factor in the school’s ability to encourage a child’s moral development is the classroom teacher. By his or her sensitivity to moral questions and to the dignity of each child, a teacher can communicate more without words than can be overtly taught through instruction.

It is in the area of teacher education that the Church of the Brethren has made a significant contribution to the public schools. The Brethren historically have had a fluctuating relationship with formal education. When the Brethren first settled in Pennsylvania, they were highly involved in the educational efforts of the German community, exemplified by their relationships with both Christopher Sauer, Sr. and Jr. As the Brethren dispersed southward and westward from the Philadelphia area, they became more isolated and cut off from the communities around them. As explained by Desmond Bittinger in The Church of the Brethren Past and Present,

The Brethren now saw a need for a different educational emphasis. If they were to maintain even their own children as a part of their membership and not to lose their identity within the frontier communities and the changed cultural setting, then the nature of the education had to shift decidedly. It had to center in the home. . . . They felt that they needed to keep themselves disassociated with ‘the world.’

Eventually, the Brethren became less isolated geographically and printed periodicals, beginning with the “Gospel Visitor,” began to circulate again among the Brethren. Sunday schools began to appear by the end of the 19th century, and as the public school system was established, the vocation of school teaching seemed a natural one for many Brethren young people. Institutional education and the development of Brethren seminaries and schools of higher education were encouraged by the same persons who began making use of the printing press. Our Brethren colleges have contributed great numbers of teachers and school administrators to public school systems, particularly in areas in which Brethren communities are located. One of the most significant contributions the Church of the Brethren can make to the teaching morals and ethics in the public schools is to continue to encourage the training of teachers and school administrators who are willing to impart a sense of individual worth and moral commitment to the children they come in contact with.

As we Brethren relate our own historical and religious experiences to the present public school system, we need to ask ourselves two questions: what are the moral and ethical values which we want to impart to our children, and what are the moral and ethical values which are being transmitted and encouraged in the public school system. For the most part, we can agree with other faiths and cultures that there are certain basic moral principles which we share. The public schools play a strong supportive role in setting standards of decency, honesty, fairness, and respect for other persons. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that in the past our faith has led us to depart from prevailing social mores on specific occasions. As Brethren today, we may also on occasion take issue with some of the values being transmitted in the public schools. For example, our American system of education, as a subdivision of the state, tends to emphasize militarism often at the expense of any discussion of world peace or encouragement of a pacifistic stand in opposition to war. The public schools play an important role in emphasizing to children what is good about our society, but we must remember that the problems in our society are also reflected in the public school system.

On the one hand, we encourage Brethren to become involved as parents, and even more deeply involved as teachers and administrators, in the public school systems. On the other hand, we urge Brethren to examine the public schools and become aware of the areas in which the moral or ethical approaches imbedded in the public schools may differ and diverge from that which we would hope our children would value. In examining the principles and values present within the public school system, we are led to a further examination of the morals and ethics shared across adult society. The crisis in moral values found in our public schools is not an isolated phenomenon, but is a reflection of the crisis of values found throughout American social, economic and political life.

What Can Be Done to Encourage the Teaching of Morals and Ethics in the Public Schools

In spite of our words of caution and the need to evaluate very carefully the burdens we place on the public schools, we would encourage Brethren to examine their own local school community to determine what is being done and what can be done regarding the teaching of morals and ethics. Because each, local Brethren community and each local school community is different and unique, the real examination of the question submitted to the study committee must be carried forward on a local level. The committee has no master plan for the Brethren that will insure the presence of the teaching of morals and ethics in the public schools, but we do suggest possible next steps which will enable Brethren to move ahead responsibly on this issue. Any action Brethren might take will be largely determined by the decision-making structure within the local school community. Even with increasing involvement of federal and state government in public education, the majority of the operational decisions affecting the schools are made on a local level. The unit of the church most capable of functioning on this level is the local congregation, with its knowledge of the limitations and the potentials within a given school district.

A. Recommendation of Church Study Unit and Evaluation of Local School Community

In encouraging local Brethren communities to seriously examine the issues involved, the study committee first proposes that a study unit be included in the church’s educational program on the teaching on morals and ethics in the public schools. We would urge each congregation to examine for itself the issues which this study committee has wrestled with. Examples of questions which a study unit could focus on include:

  1. What should the role and/or responsibility of the public schools be in teaching morals and ethics?
  2. What moral values are being directly or indirectly taught now and what values or ethics should be taught in the public schools?
  3. What are ways or methods in which moral and ethical values can be presented and discussed most effectively in the classroom?
  4. What is presently being done in the local public schools to encourage the teaching of morals and ethics?

As a part of such a study unit, we would also recommend that the Brethren community set up a discussion meeting with persons of other faiths, such as the Jewish and Catholic communities, to mutually explore the issues involved and the perceptions of others on the role of the schools in transmitting moral and ethical values. In the appendix to this report the committee has included a list of resources to be used for such an educational program in each local congregation interested in this issue.

One of the most important aspects of such a study unit undertaken by congregations would be an in-depth examination of the local school community to find out what is being done and what the schools are interested in exploring in regard to teaching moral and ethical values. After the local congregation has done its own homework, with sufficient background to respond to the local school community, we would suggest that Brethren meet with and explore these issues with the personnel involved in administering the public schools in their area. Brethren may want to prepare for such a discussion by sharing this report or a summary of concerns with school personnel before the actual meeting, so the school official involved will have some understanding of the source of any such inquiry. The congregational study group should approach any meeting with openness and an awareness of the conflicting pressures under which the schools operate. Such a meeting would be valuable in gathering information on present efforts in the schools to encourage the development of moral values. The church delegation would also want to express its willingness to support any efforts of the public schools to develop or offer course units on moral and ethical values and/or studies of religion. This committee has prepared a list of suggestions in setting up and conducting a meeting with school officials, which list is also set forth in the appendix to this report.

B. Specific Options Available for the Public Schools

In preparing this report, the study committee has accumulated many ideas on what possible approaches can be taken to the teaching of morals and ethics and the teaching about religion in the public schools. The committee would like to share some of these.

  1. Specific Options for the Teaching of Morals and Ethics
    1. Use of the “values clarification” method. One formalized method which has been developed to encourage students to examine their own moral and ethical systems has been titled “values clarification.” Some schools include specific courses on values in which students explicitly examine their own values as well as those of the society around them. A values clarification approach is one that can be used by any individual teacher in his or her own classroom by incorporating it in any regular school curriculum.
    2. Courses on current moral dilemmas or problems. By including in the social studies curriculum a focus on present moral problems, the schools can encourage the development of a thoughtful and morally responsible reaction to those problems. For instance, in a current events class or unit, students could seriously examine the questions surrounding integration in the public schools. Students could be asked to examine present possibilities of disarmament or the impact of defense spending on government priorities. Certainly, the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse are receiving widespread attention from the public school system, with many opportunities for teachers to communicate their own convictions on these issues.
  2. Specific Options Available for the Teaching About Religion
    1. Religion studies programs. Many schools include courses or units on the Bible as in literature as it relates to history, and courses on world religions and religious beliefs. Sections on such topics can be included in any history, literature, or social studies course.
    2. Released time. Under this program, students are released from the public schools for the purpose of receiving religious instruction from non-public school teachers off school premises, with the program financed by a local council of churches or a similar affiliated religious group. In Ft. Wayne, Indiana, the released time program includes students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

Although the committee has made a distinction in this report between the teaching of morals and ethics and the teaching about religion, we recognize the considerable interaction between these two areas. One cannot explore moral and ethical values without reaching and discussing the religious underpinnings of such values. Many persons have overreacted to the Supreme Court’s decisions on prayer and Bible reading to conclude that religion cannot be presented or discussed at all in school. This conclusion is unfortunate and unnecessary. Perhaps the most effective and practical way to discuss religion or religious ideas is in their natural context as they arise in class presentations and discussions. The impact of religion and religious belief on various aspects of society can be studied whenever appropriate in any social studies, literature, or science unit. Discussion of the role of religion in society, both historically and in the present, does not contravene the separation of church and state. A student is not truly educated unless she or he possesses a basic knowledge of the religious roots of our own culture as well as that of other cultures throughout the world.

C. What the Denomination Can Do

On a national, regional, district, and local level, the Church of the Brethren should seek ways of cooperating with other religious organizations to examine and encourage the teaching of morals and ethics and the teaching about religion in the schools. We recommend the following:

  1. Brethren district offices, with help from the Parish Ministries Commission may want to schedule district workshops on teaching morals, ethics, or religious studies in the public schools, utilizing such resource centers as the Public Education Religion Studies Center at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, or the National Council on Religion and Public Education, Muncie, Indiana.
  2. Local congregations may want to subscribe to the publication “Church and Public Education,” issued by the Division of Education and Ministry of the National Council of Churches of Christ, a monthly bulletin dealing with the issues involved and containing information on resources, materials, and workshops.
  3. The “Messenger” and “Agenda” should continue to keep the discussion of the teaching of morals and ethics alive by publishing articles on the subject, noting recent developments and announcing any related programs or workshops.
  4. The General Board should investigate membership for the Church of the Brethren in the National Council on Religion and Public Education, an alliance of organizations concerned with the inclusion of religion studies in the public school curriculum.

We also recommend that educators work toward developing public school curriculum materials in the area of religion studies. The Brethren Press might explore the possibility of publishing such curriculum units for public schools. We would encourage Brethren colleges and Bethany Seminary to explore means by which they can further contribute to teacher preparation and certification in the area of religion studies. At present only a few states certify teachers in religion studies. Brethren colleges may want to communicate to the offices of public instruction in their states a desire to be of help in establishing certification of teachers in religion studies. We would also encourage Brethren who are preparing for careers in education to consider religion studies as an area of concentration. Most importantly, we urge public school administrators and teachers to provide leadership roles in developing such programs within their own schools and in seeking to establish an atmosphere conducive to the greatest moral and ethical development of children.


In submitting its report, the Committee expresses its gratitude to the Annual Conference for the opportunity to examine the role of teaching ethical and moral values in the public schools. The experience has been a growth factor in the lives of the members of the Committee. It is hoped that Church of the Brethren congregations will also avail themselves of this same type of growth experience in dealing with a fundamental and common concern. The Committee recognizes that while this study has dealt with and been limited to the teaching of ethical and moral values in the public schools, the subject of morals and ethics in the final analysis cannot be restricted to one segment of the population. In their book on The American Teenager, Radler and Remmers state:

It seems clear that the attitudes of the American teenager, to a very great extent, are the attitudes of the American adult. Apparently the real foundation for citizenship must be laid at an early age in the home. Formal education does contribute substantially, of course, and, as we have seen, students reflect both their education and the attitudes of their teachers. But the true wellspring of an integrated, healthy and happy personality lies within the walls—large or small, many or few, bare, painted or tapestried—of the teenager’s home. ‘Home is where the heart is’—and the heart, of course, is the figurative seat of the feelings and attitudes which determine so largely the kind of man or woman the teenager will become.
. . .
If this self-portrait offends our sensibilities, we must remember that the artist who drew it learned every brush stroke from us. Every study of teenagers’ attitudes finds them to be a reflection—sometimes distorted but more often accurate—of adult thinking and behavior. Only by changing our own techniques can we hope to better his.

It is the hope of the Committee that members of the Church of the Brethren will find this report of value as local congregations continue to do what they can to improve the quality of life for all of us in the days that lie ahead.

Jeffrey Copp, Chairman; John B. Grimley; Ron Spire; Martha Smeltzer West; John F. Young


List of Suggestions for Meeting School Officials

Recognizing that there is no one best way to discuss with school administrators and teachers the role public schools play in the development of moral and ethical values, the following are suggested for your consideration:

  1. If possible, become acquainted with your school district superintendent and the principal that serves your attendance area. In large districts the building principal is generally more accessible.
  2. Remember that school administrators are very busy people. At no time in human history have so many social concerns been placed at “the schoolhouse door.” Usually it is best to contact the administrator by phone, tell him or her of your concern, and that you would appreciate a conference at a mutually agreeable time. Don’t try to overwhelm the administrator with a large group. This technique seldom produces much good.
  3. Prior to the conference, be sure you have done your homework on the item to be discussed. What are your specific concerns? What are the facts? Keep in mind that the administrator has probably dealt with this issue before. Above all, do not give the administrator an assignment to gather facts. The purpose of the conference should be established early. Vague generalities such as, “We think the school ought to do more to upgrade moral values,” will not be of much help. Rather than telling the administrator what the schools should do, why not ask him or her to tell you (1) what the schools are doing, and (2) what some of the school’s concerns are in this area.
  4. Continually stress your concern for the school-home partnership, for both have a common objective—the welfare of the young person.
  5. After your conference with the administrator, express appreciation for his or her time. And if you have suggestions where improvement can be made, write them on a report. Keep in mind that good home-school relationships should be built on positive areas, and then if problems do arise, the communications network will have already been built.

The Public Education Religion Studies Center, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, makes the following additional suggestions:

  1. Justify any request for religion studies solely on academic grounds. Education is incomplete without study about religion as one of the important dimensions of human history. The California Board of Education has said, “Our schools should have no hesitancy in teaching about religion. We urge our teachers to make clear the contributions of religion to our civilization, history, art, and ethics.”
  2. Communicate to your school administrators your interest in the natural inclusion of religion studies in the regular curriculum and support of the schools’ efforts in this regard. Separate courses or units such as “Bible as Literature” and “World Religions” might also be suggested.
  3. Offer to assist the school by (a) providing “scholarships” for teachers to obtain better academic and professional training in this field through courses, institutes, workshops, etc.; (b) helping to fund in-service education for the total faculty; (c) purchasing some of the student materials currently available; and/or (d) identifying and providing resource people and materials which can be utilized by the teachers in their classrooms.
  4. Cooperate actively with your schools in every way possible, such as PTA work, volunteer help, room parent, election worker, advisory council member, etc. This demonstrates that you are not a “one-issue” person and are concerned with a complete education and recognize the difficult task faced by the schools.

(“Public Education Religion Studies: Questions and Answers,” PERSC Guidebook, Bracher, Panoch, Piediscalzi, and Uphoff, 1974.)

A. Resource Organizations

  1. American Association of School Administrators, 1801 North Moore Street, Arlington, Virginia 22209. Ask for the report “Religion in the Public Schools.”
  2. Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, 200 Maryland Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002. This committee has material available under the general heading of “Religious Liberty Pamphlets.” These relevant to the teaching of morals and ethics in the public schools include: “Religious Liberty and Bill of Rights,” “Religion in the Public School Classroom,” and “Religion and Public Education: Some Suggested Guidelines.”
  3. Committee on Militarism in Education. John Swomley, Jr., Director, 5123 Truman Road, Kansas City, Missouri 64127. This committee is organized to provide a service to educators, religious leaders and others concerned about the military influence in our schools and colleges.
  4. Educational Communication Association, Inc., 1346 F. Street, N.W., Room 960, Washington, D.C. 20004. This private organization has produced a film relating to religion in public schools called “Keystone for Education,” which may be rented for $20.
  5. National Education Association, 1201 Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. Published a special report in 1970 (411-12772), “Religion and the Schools: from Prayer to Public Aid.”
  6. National Council of Teachers of English, 508 South Sixth Street, Champaign, Illinois 61820. Contact for information on the subject “The Bible as Literature.”
  7. National Council of the Churches of Christ, U.S.A., Department of Religion and Public Education, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027. Publishes monthly bulletin “The Church and Public Education.”
  8. National Council on Religion and Public Education Administrative Offices, Ball State University, 2000 University Avenue, Muncie, Indiana 47306. NCRPE is a coalition of organizations concerned with including religion in public school curriculum.
  9. National Conference of Christians and Jews, 43 West 57th Street, New York, New York. Ask for document “Teaching About Religion in the Public Schools.”
  10. Public Education Religion Studies Center (PERSC), Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio 45431. PERSC serves as a clearinghouse in the entire area of religion and the public schools and sponsors workshops for teachers.
  11. Summer Institute on Teaching the Bible in Literature Courses, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47401.
  12. World Religions Curriculum Development Center, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55426.

B. Bibliography

American Association of School Administrators, Religion in the public schools; New York, Harper & Row, 1964. 68 p. [o.p.]
This report by the Commission on Religion in the Public Schools of the AASA is one of the finest brief treatments of the subject available. The first two chapters treat the historic and legal aspects; the third chapter sets up a philosophical framework for public schools on how to deal with religion; the last two chapters make concrete suggestions in regard to curriculum and to extracurricular activities.

Boles, Donald E., The Bible, religion, and the public schools; New York, Crowell, Collier and MacMillan, Inc., 1962. 320 p. [o.p.]
Boles, in this widely reviewed and quoted book, gives a detailed treatment of over sixty court cases dealing with religion and the public schools. Although Boles wrote this book before the Abington case, his presentation is in keeping with the recent Supreme Court cases. An excellent analysis of both sides of the devotional Bible reading issue is a major concern of this book. The reading is interesting and free from technical jargon.

Boles, Donald E., The two swords: commentaries and cases in religion and education; Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University Press, 1967. 407 p. [Cloth]
This book is a companion volume to
The Bible, Religion, and the Public Schools. Boles presents a series of the most pertinent United States Supreme Court and state court cases involving the church-state-school issues. Each case is written in a way that allows the reader to determine his own position. Skillful summaries conclude each chapter.

Cox, Claire R., The Fourth R: What can be taught about religion in the public schools; New York, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1969. 179 p. [o.p.]
This is a highly readable, journalistic account of different aspects of learning about religion in the public schools. As the title suggests, the major emphasis is on various efforts across the country to introduce religion through the school curriculum.

Duker, Sam, The public schools and religion: The legal context; New York, Harper & Row, [Publishers], 1966. 238 p. [Paper]
This book is a commendable effort to make the key court decisions understandable to the average layman. Excerpts from the cases, brief commentaries, and a table appear.

Freund, Paul A. and Ulich, Robert, Religion and the public schools; Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1965. 54 p. [Paper]
Both of these discussions were originally given as lectures. Ulich handles the educational aspects; Freund discusses the legal issues.

Gaustad, Edwin S., American religious history. [Available from the Service Center for Teachers of History, American Historical Association, Washington, D.C.] 27 p.
This excellent pamphlet is designed especially for high school teachers, surveying the literature available in the field.

Henry, Virgil, The place of religion in public schools: A handbook to guide communities; New York, Harper & Brothers, 1950. [o.p.]
This book is a report of a doctoral thesis completed at Teachers College, Columbia University, and, as the subtitle indicates, is a handbook for communities. It represents a very early approach to including religion in the regular curriculum of the public schools in such areas as literature, social studies, physical and biological sciences, music, art, and drama, assembly programs, educational and vocational guidance, as well as materials on the library. The book still has a great deal to say to us today.

Jacobson, Philip, Religion in public education: A guide for discussion; [Available from the American Jewish Committee, 165 East 56th Street, New York. N.Y. 10022], 1971. 44 p.
This is a brief, useful guide that attempts to bring in both sides of such issues as value education, prayer, released time, and teaching about religion. Jacobson’s booklet is helpful as a discussion guide, for its purpose is to explore the main points at issue and to suggest practical solutions where possible.

Johnson, F. Ernest, [editor], American education and religion; New York, Harper & Brothers, 1952. [o.p.]
F. Ernest Johnson was an “expert” in his own day on the matters related to religion and public education. The book represents a series of addresses by persons of all faiths, indicating Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant educators’ points of view. An entire chapter in this book deals with “Religion in Elementary and Secondary Education.”

Little, Lawrence C., Religion and public education: a bibliography; Pittsburgh Pa., 3d ed., 1968. 214 p. [Paper, o.p.]
This third edition of a popular bibliography contains six major sections: Books and Pamphlets, Publications of Religious Bodies and of Public School Systems, Doctoral Dissertations, Masters’ and B.D. Theses, Periodicals, and Selected United States Supreme Court Cases.

Loder, James E.,
Religion and the public schools; New York, Association Press, 1965. 125 p. [o.p.]
Loder presents a succinct, constructive policy for the place of religion in public education, without minimizing of difficulties.

McCluskey, Neil G., S.J.,
Public schools and moral education: The influence of Horace Mann, William Torrey Harris, and John Dewey; New York, Columbia University Press, 1958. [o.p.]
Basic issues and questions raised by the book are as follows: The effort of public schools to inculcate a philosophy of values has been complicated by the great degree of religious pluralism in American society. To what degree, however, can pluralism flourish before they weaken the bonds of national unity? How much unity can be had without sacrificing the riches of diversity? McCluskey analyzes the thinking of Mann, Harris, and Dewey on the problem of values and indicates that they have “charged the common school with the responsibility for character education.” (Father McCluskey is at the present time the Chairman of National Council on Religion and Public Education.)

Michaelsen, Robert S., Piety and the public schools; New York, The MacMillan Company, 1970. 274 p. [Cloth]
This volume is a thoroughly researched and carefully written account of the shifting relationship between religion and public schools in America’s history. Michaelsen draws upon selected materials relating to American religious history, the work and thought of major educational leaders, and significant court cases.
National Education Association, Educational Policies Commission, Moral and spiritual values in the public schools; Washington, D.C., National Education Association, 1951. [o.p.]
This represents a special study of twenty members of the Educational Policies Commission having a concern for moral and spiritual values. It includes a section entitled “Public Schools Can and Should Teach About Religion.”

Panoch, James, and Barr, David, Religion goes to school; New York, Harper & Row, [Publishers], 1968. 183 p. [Cloth]
This book is a resource for action to construct and initiate legal efforts for learning about religion in the public schools. Short answers to typical questions in layman’s language form a major section of the book, and a large annotated bibliography and resource list of all types of materials and agencies are included. Representative examples of curriculum units and courses are briefly described.

“Religion and public school curriculum,” Religious education, Part II, New Haven, Conn., The Religious Education Association, July/August 1972. 110 p.
Addresses and reports of the meeting of the National Council on Religion and Public Education, New York City, November 30–December 1, 1971.

Sebaly, A.L., Teacher education and religion; Oneonta, New York, The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, 1959. [o.p.]
This book is the report of a committee on teacher education and religion which was commissioned by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education in 1953. The committee undertook a thorough study and reported findings and conclusions. The book has a dual function: a discussion of where religious dimensions are intrinsic to various disciplines important in the preparation of prospective teachers and report of some of the outcomes of the project which motivated the writing of the book.
While this early book represented an interest on the part of colleges of teacher education in the subject matter, not much follow-up resulted with regard to implementation in colleges of teacher education.

Sizer, Theodore R., [editor], Religion and public education; New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967. 359 p.
Sizer has edited the papers presented at the Conference on the Role of Religion in Public Education, held in 1966 under the auspices of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Cambridge. A valuable source for understanding the significant contemporary relationship between religion and schooling, it includes reports from top experts in the fields of both religion and education.

(The list of resource organizations is taken in part from “Teaching About Religion in the Schools As an Option,” J. Blaine Fister, Division of Education, United Methodist Board of Discipleship. The bibliography is reprinted in its entirety from the same source.)

Action of 1977 Annual Conference: The report was presented by Jeffrey Copp with other members of the committee present. The paper was adopted.