Religious right in education

Jennifer Davis

Advocates for Children
College Park Scholars
University of Maryland at College Park

Many people in America profess to be moralistic. Much of the population would probably like to build strong families, to support a good educational system, and to protect religious rights. A problem occurs, however, when one group threatens to enforce policies and ideas that would disregard the rights of a majority of people in the country.

There exists such a problem, and this problem has been more evident within the past sixteen years; it has most recently been prevalent throughout much of the media. This problem is the religious right.

The religious right is an extremist religious movement, made up mostly of Protestants, many Evangelical Fundamentalists, and a few conservative Catholics and conservative Jews. The organization aims to restore what it sees as the original "Christian order" of the United States. This country was a Christian society, and it is the responsibility of any good Christian to help restore the "correct" morals and values, according to religious right activists. Part of this responsibility, as the religious right sees it, is to revamp the public education in this country.

The religious right is nothing new. There have always been those with strong conservative views, but until WWII the voices had always remained just a theology. After the war, however, a new political activism arose out of the communist scare. Here in the United States the teaching of evolution in the public school system, the supreme court ruling banning public school prayer, the new gay assertiveness, and the Equal Rights Amendment were just some examples of things which enforced the forthcoming political movement.

With the social issues in the 1970's, the religious right really came together. The three main issues which were defined then, but are still the most prevalent, are education, the family, and morals.

The religious right has strongly opposed many aspects among public education. It fears the separation of church and state, (with the absence of school prayer), it fears diversity, (which would incorporate gays and gay rights), multi-cultural education, sex education, (excepting counseling of abstinence before marriage), gender equity programs, most self-esteem programs, and critical thinking and problem solving programs. The curricula, according to the religious right view, is infested with secular humanist and New Age religious teaching.

In New York City the Christian Coalition, a sub-group of the religious right founded by Gordon "Pat" Robertson, formed an alliance to block the adoption of the multi-cultural "Rainbow Curriculum" because the curriculum included education about gay families. The Coalition sent propaganda which fully exaggerated the message about the gay families; the religious right made it seem as though the curriculum was almost telling children to become gay. Since many of the voters were not too educated on what the curriculum contained, they relied on the coalition's information, became scared, and kept it out of the school.

Diversity education threatens the conservatives' religious beliefs, and gender equity opposes God's will for the hierarchical relationships between a man, his wife, and children, according to this organization.

Another said undermining of God occurs with the teaching of self-reliance, since it challenges reliance on God. Critical thinking also is said to undermine parental and scriptural authority.

The religious right would like to see a secretarian approach to education, organized prayer, creationism in the science curricula, and religious and Bible teaching in the school curricula. The religious right has employed two major tools with which to advocate their wishes for public education. One is a group entitled Citizens for Excellence in Education, and another is censorship.

Censorship has already been successfully applied in many cases throughout the states. Classics such as Of Mice and Men, self-esteem programs, and sex education have all been censored. Accu-sations of this censored material range from cries of "witchcraft" to "New Age religion" to "satanism."

Sex education ranks among the more targeted censored material. The right would like to implement sex education programs such as Sex Respect and Teen Aid, which are costly and discourage sexual activity by relying on religious doctrine and images of fear and shame. Any sex education program with information on homosexuals is charged with recruiting students to perform homosexual acts.

Another prominent curricula which the religious right opposes is Outcome-Based Education, which involves standardized testing, claiming it is psychological testing and an invasion of students' privacy.

While the censorship has been working well through all of the religious rights sub-groups, One sub-group has been notably prevalent in its forthputting of the religious right education ideals: Citizens for Excellence in Education.

CEE, an affiliate of the National Association for Christian Education and a part of the religious right, warns parents to be wary of public education because "...public school is stripping [your child] of his religious faith" and because "...public school libraries are full of pornography...children are being 'recruited' to homosexuality and promiscuity."

CEE was founded in 1983 as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, and it now holds over 1,250 chapters. Dr. Robert L. Simonds founded the group, which also supports school prayer and opposes sex education, separation of church and state, and gay rights. It is a leading factor in censoring curricula.

Removing public school's evil influences and electing Christian Fundamentalists to the school boards in order to gain control of the public schools are the two main goals of CEE.

Supporting and enforcing candidates and censorships, CEE has made some notable advances. In the school board elections in the Vista County of California, (a usually democratic area), a majority of religious conservatives were elected. Also, Little Red Riding Hood was banned from public school libraries in Texas because the grandmother's drinking of wine was inappropriate for a children's story.

Other notable challenges made by CEE have included opposition to Pumsy In Pursuit of Excellence, (a self-esteem curricula in California), the Junior Great Books Series, drug-abuse prevention, and a Wizards spelling program.

CEE is currently forming Public School Awareness Church Kits which instruct on the monopolization of public schools. A big part of the manipulation of public schools is the control of the school boards, to which CEE claims to have helped to elect over 12,000 religious right members since 1989.

A common way of electing these candidates is through stealth politics. Stealth politics allows the candidate to shun forums, not give interviews, and not inform the public of any affiliation with religious right extremist groups. Churches and church members are pulled into voting for candidates while they may not know anything about them. In an apathetic public the religious minority wins easily.

The religious right is an extremely powerful organization, and it is succeeding in achieving some of its goals for education.Books and programs are being censored left and right, school prayer is coming dangerously close to happening in many school districts, curricula are being altered, and programs meant for self-betterment are no longer seen as such. Countering the religious right is possible, but the opposition has to become well-organized and powerful pretty quick. America's schools are in danger of becoming geared toward one type of child; in a place as diverse as America, this should not ever happen.


American Association of University Women. "Unmasking Religious Right Extremism." February, 1994. 1-6.

"Censorship Challenges." An Activist's Guide to Protecting the Freedom to Learn. Washington, D.C.: People for the American Way, 1995.

"Citizens for Excellence in Education." People for the American Way. Washington, D.C.: PFAW, 1995.

Macedo, Stephen. "Multiculturalism for the religious right? Defending liberal curriculum education." Journal of philosophy of education v.2 (1995): 223-239.

Martin, Janice. "Religious right more sophisticated in its school censorship attempts." St Petersburg Times 3 Oct. 1990: C4.

This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Search for books about this topic:

Enter keywords...