Column: Religion has place in education

Several weeks ago, Joshua Feuerstein, a self-proclaimed social media personality, derided Starbucks for their alleged “War on Christmas," a merciless yet covert assault he contends is evinced by their lack of holiday-themed cups. Anyone who has recently satisfied their mocha craving at a local Starbucks has stood on the front lines of the coffee chain’s purported holiday onslaught and has witnessed firsthand the Grinch that is the new plain red cup, stripped bare of all holiday cheer.

In light of this bombardment on Christian values, Feuerstein has called on all fellow believers to state their name as “Merry Christmas” to Starbucks baristas so that when their hot caffeinated beverage is ready to be served, employees will be forced to acknowledge the holiday. Clearly, Feuerstein is the leader all beleaguered Christians have been waiting on to end this holiday purge.

As absurd as Mr. Feuerstein’s grievances are, an erasure of religion from the holiday season is not a new complaint, nor is it an entirely illegitimate one. Although the need for a multibillion-dollar corporation to reaffirm one’s faith is rather ridiculous, not to mention irreconcilable with the general principle of faith, it is no secret that public displays of religious practices, even in the most modest of forms, have become taboo.

Considering that Western civilization is in large part supported by values derived from religious texts, and further acknowledging that nearly 77 percent of Americans consider themselves religious in one way or another, banishing religious expression of any form from the public sphere can only increase animosity toward the majority (70.6 percent of Americans are Christian) and encourage divisiveness amongst the minority. Understanding and mutual appreciation, regardless of one’s religious background, is the key to unity, especially in the holiday season.

In large part due to the tireless efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union, religious practices and celebration in public schools are strictly forbidden, for fear of indoctrination of students by biased teachers. While this is a valid concern, and the ACLU’s actions stem from a desire to protect the freedoms of all individuals, the unintentional result has been a snuffing out of religion in the holiday season, leaving many students in the dark as to what exactly is being celebrated.

A teacher is only as good as his or her experiences, and these experiences are often greatly influenced by faith. If teachers are unable to share their celebrations during a time when more than five religions are rejoicing, then these teachers’ invaluable personal knowledge, integral parts of any education, are rendered useless. Thus, students are often devoid of any personal understanding of a religion other than their own, creating an incubator for disunity.

Reading about a religion or culture in a textbook can only do so much in the way of fostering empathy. It is firsthand experience with different customs and people that truly encourages compassion. A teacher should be able to bring in a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah or a Kinara to celebrate Kwanzaa or diya lights to celebrate Diwali or yes, maybe even a Christmas tree.

Since its conception at least 6,000 years ago, religion has had more influence, for better or for worse, than any other human (or divine) creation since. Religion is too important and too ingrained in our society to simply ignore, and schools, more than anyplace else, should welcome religious practices of all forms.

In the holiday season, a time of rejoicing and sharing, let us not succumb to the often inescapable grasp of political correctness, lest we destroy what makes us so unique and lose sight of the holiday spirit.

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