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Crossing Religious Barriers

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Crossing Religious Barriers

Bianca Fairchild, Editor in Chief

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As our First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” meaning that we, the people, have the right to choose our religion and exercise it.

However, the presence of religion in public schools has been a hot topic for decades. A court case in 1948, called McCollum v. Board of Education, ruled that religious instruction can’t occur during school hours and on school property. But, everyone in Idaho Falls could easily say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the predominant religion in our town, and that includes among our youth and schools. While a school can’t allow an official establishment of religion on school grounds during school hours, students are obviously still allowed to express their religion to a certain extent.

However, as most Skyline students know, students can take Seminary, which is defined by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “a four-year religious education program for youth. In seminary, hundreds of thousands of students and their teachers meet to study the scriptures, including the Bible (the Old Testament and the New Testament), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.” The church also reported that around 220,000 students are enrolled in seminary in the U.S. One Skyline junior who identifies as an Atheist stated, “Personally, I find it pretty odd that we offer religious classes at a public school, but I get that that’s not a very popular opinion. The way I see it, I’m glad that students don’t get credit for going to seminary since it shouldn’t be connected to public schools at all. My viewpoint is that school and church should always be very separate. The fact that we have a building specifically for religious teachings on campus irks me, but it’s not the kind of issue that I would actively fight against. I would not want to go out of my way to shut down something that people find enjoyable and educational, even if it does go against my beliefs.” This student actually made a common mistake that many people in the Skyline community do without realizing. The Seminary building is not on school property, it is owned by the LDS church. The teachers in that building are paid by the church as well, and the release time basically just allows a student to leave school grounds for some kind of purpose and just acknowledges that by the school, any student could get release time, it’s not an option only offered to students who are taking Seminary. So while the idea of Seminary does stand right on the line of an establishment of religion at school, it’s not inherently violating the Bill of Rights.

So, while release time can be granted to any student at SHS and it’s not transgressing the Constitution, many could easily agree that there is obviously still a barrier between Latter-day Saint students and other students at Skyline. The Seminary building often offers food to the whole school throughout the year at lunch, they allow any student to come to the building, but somehow there still manages to be an invisible line between the Seminary building and the school that no one seems to cross. This raises an important question: Why not cross that line?

WSS asked multiple students how they feel about the religious climate in our school. A sophomore who identifies as a Latter-day Saint told us: “I feel comfortable expressing my beliefs at Skyline. You should not be ashamed or uncomfortable for your beliefs, nor should you make others feel uncomfortable if they do not share your beliefs. I think that sometimes, it doesn’t matter where you come from. A lot of the time, people will respect you if you make your beliefs known, but also by practicing what you preach. I think that most of the time, people in Idaho Falls are respectful about everyone’s religious beliefs.”

On the contrary, I don’t often like to break the rules of formal writing and speak with first person pronouns or outright explain my experiences with a topic, but I’m going to make a quick exception. I grew up in Rigby, Idaho and went to Rigby Middle School for the few years prior to my move to Idaho Falls. I am not part of the Church of Jesus Christ, and because of that, I was often alienated at school, in school activities, in discussions, and had no close friends. In fact, I was told on multiple occasions that someone couldn’t be friends with me because I didn’t practice in their religion. I have been given several copies of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, even though I explained to anyone who gave me one that I had a copy of both already. I can’t speak for Rigby now, but I think it’s important for the sake of bias to make it clear where I’m coming from. Part of the reason I took this story was because I wondered if students at Skyline had a similar experience to mine in Rigby, and I’m actually finding out that most would say they haven’t, and I’m legitimately glad to hear that.

A Skyline sophomore who is not a member of the Church or Jesus Christ who asked me to identify him as a Follower of Christ or a Christian explained, “I don’t even care if people will criticize me for my religion. I will express it and stand by it no matter what happens. There are some people that included me that are not my religion, and those people are normally just my good friends. For Idaho Falls, I personally have not been excluded by other people with different religious beliefs; but I do know people that have been bullied and excluded because they believed something else. In my opinion, Skyline is not so bad, they try to include everyone.”

Of course, there is always room to improve. The students I interviewed for this story gave me different responses about where Skyline can do better with accepting other religions. The sophomore I interviewed who identifies as a Latter-day Saint explained, “A lot of the time, people will respect you if you make your beliefs known, but also by practicing what you preach. I think that most of the time, people in Idaho Falls are respectful about everyone’s religious beliefs. Skyline is doing good at accepting people and their beliefs, but I think students are too shy about their beliefs and don’t actually follow their beliefs at school.” However, the Atheist junior interviewed had a different opinion, “This is kind of a tough question. I feel included in a lot of purely school related activities, but once it gets to anything remotely religious, it feels pretty alienating. I understand that going to the same church as many of your classmates creates a unique bond, but it’s just strange to be in a group of people you feel welcomed in and then to suddenly be shut out by a religious discussion. I overall feel welcomed, but sometimes the huge religious presence can be a bit overwhelming.” The conclusion I can make about this is that Skyline can be mostly accepting towards others in school activities, sometimes out of school activities, and we don’t attack each other over religion; however, we can improve on having discussions and being more open to other ideologies. We don’t have to change our values or behavior to make those things happen. We can simple agree to disagree, but we can still interact and break down our invisible obstacles to be a more cohesive community.

When we break it all down, what we all should know is that no matter where you come from or what religion you reside with, we all must accept each other and be respectful of others’ beliefs. Having conversations about religion is the first step to awareness, and it doesn’t have to be a fight. Crossing the barrier between the religions in our school could be more beneficial than we might immediately assume, it can be educational, thought-provoking, and help us grow. So, no, I’m not saying let’s do open readings of religious texts in English class, but I am saying let’s have discussions about what we believe. We might have more in common than we think. 

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