The Ban on Religious Symbols in Public Schools

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I sat in the lower administration office of Woodbridge Senior High School, furiously biting my nails—a habit that results from my being frustrated, angered or nervous. In this case, anger and frustration were the motives for my nail-biting. Other students sat near me in the small office in a very similar way; some of them stared at one spot as if they were entranced by the invisible air before them. Another student tapped his foot on the ground in a rapid, steady beat, almost as if he was impatient.

"(Insert my real name here)?" I heard my name spoken in a familiar male voice that I had heard numerous times before in the crowded hallways, redundantly instructing students to "get to class" and to "not be late". I stood and followed my administrator into his office, where he shut the door to ensure privacy from curious ears.

He asked me if I knew why I had been sent down to his office, and I said yes. He asked me why and I explained to him what had happened. "She told me to remove my pentagram because it is a cult symbol, and students’ were therefore banned from wearing such symbols. When she demanded that I give it to her, like teachers do when they take away a student's cell phone, I refused to take it off and place it in her open palm."

He asked me why I had refused to give her my trinket, and I replied, "Because I did not feel that I should have to remove it. It is not a cult symbol. It is a symbol of my faith. Crucifixes are not confiscated and classified as a 'cult' symbol, and they hold the same meaning for their people as this pentagram holds for me." I did not feel that I had done anything wrong. However, my administrator insisted that I had violated the Dress Code by wearing the symbol to school in the first place, and that I had then proceeded to violate the Code of Conduct when I refused to hand over my religious symbol, calling it "insubordination".

I have done a lot of researching and I have come to find that I am not the only one who has experienced this religious discrimination and intolerance. In one incident, a child was told to wear her gold cross out of sight because it may "offend" other students. In many states, students have been prohibited from wearing pentacles or pentagrams, which are symbols of the Wiccan and Pagan religions. In Texas, a girl was told that her pentacle was not to be worn while in school.

The reason that was given to her was: "Christians associate this Wiccan symbol with animal sacrifice and Satan Worship." In May of 2004, a girl was forbidden to wear her hijab—a head-scarf that is worn by devout Muslim women and girls. The school board claimed that the other students were "frightened" by her scarf (www.religioustolerance.org). These cases all resulted in lawsuits and were taken into the courts, even making it to the Supreme Court, in order to be resolved.

 The outcomes, however, are insignificant, as incidents of discrimination and religious intolerance such as these are continuing to show themselves, and no laws or policies have been made to prohibit public schools from banning religious symbols. The banning of religious symbols in public schools of the United States is a form of religious discrimination and violates the rights of the people under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

 Those who believe that religious symbols should be banned from schools claim that the bans are in no way a violation of students’ rights. They point out that public schools are not saying that students cannot believe and practice their religions, just that they may not wear the symbols of their faiths while on school grounds. They also state that public schools are religious-free zones; students go to school to learn, not to express their religious beliefs.

Quite the contrary, forbidding students to openly wear symbols of their religions at school is most definitely a violation of their rights and freedoms. The First Amendment states that According to the United States Supreme Court, students' rights do not stop at the school door. Yet, these public schools seem to think that they are above the ruling words of the Supreme Court, because they continuously disregard the rights of their students.

As far as public schools being "religion free zones," President Clinton made it clear on July 12, 1995 that public schools are, in fact, not religion-free zones. He stated, "Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the School House door(www.religioustolerance.org)." As I stated earlier, students’ rights are being violated.

Public schools constantly strive to create a sense of unity among their students as a whole. Some raise the argument that when students come in contact with peers who they can identify as a believer and practitioner of the same religion simply by noticing a symbol of their faith, a clique—or a group of like individuals who are different from the rest of the student body. This, they argue, takes away from the sense of unity that the school wishes the entire student body to share as a whole, as these cliques set students apart from others. However, by openly wearing the symbol of their faiths, students feel more comfortable in their surroundings. They feel a sense of unity whenever they are around others who share their beliefs and practices, whereas, if they were to not surround themselves with like-people, they would feel out of place and incredibly uncomfortable and insecure.

I have questioned several students attending NVCC’s Woodbridge Campus, and their answers were very much alike. When asked what their symbol meant, and why they wore it, they, for the most part, replied that their symbol of their faith made them feel protected and reassured them that they were safe. A few also stated that their symbols invoke confidence throughout the day and encourage them with positive thought. My religious symbol provides me with the feeling of protection and makes me feel more confident about myself, as well.

My symbol of faith represents a portion of myself, and it has helped me to establish my identity. To take away the symbol of my faith is very much like forbidding me from following my traditions and stripping me of my values and morals acquired through my faith. Openly wearing religious symbols does not take away from the unity of the student body. If anything, religious symbols encourage friendship among the students as a whole, which establishes unity—exactly what public schools strive to create.

Many people favor the ban on religious symbols in public schools because they claim that religious symbols leave way for potential disruptions in learning, as well as potentially open the doors to religious discrimination among both students and their teachers. I say punish those who cause these disruptions, not victimize students by forbidding them to express their religious faith through a symbol because another student seeks to disrupt learning within the classroom.

As far as religious discrimination is concerned, students are punished for racism and other forms of discrimination. You cannot simply remove or forbid students of different races on school grounds, yet public schools still find a way to keep these two problems and potential disruptions from taking place. If by chance discrimination is present, they correct the discriminator. Why not use this very same method when it comes to disturbances, disruptions and religious discrimination instead of punishing the victims?

It has been said that religious symbols should be banned from schools because some students take offense to other students’ religious symbols, like a student took offense in October of '98 to a sixth-grade girl's tiny gold cross in Alabama. The girl was then told to wear her cross out of sight beneath her shirt because another classmate voiced their offense of it. Seeing as this country allows its people to exercise our religious freedom and because the United States government is supposed to practice religious tolerance, no matter which religion is presented, this is clearly an issue of religious intolerance.

As I stated before, when a person sees the symbol of their faith, their faith is reinforced by it. If you are a Christian or a Catholic, take a few moments to assess what you feel when you look upon a crucifix. If you are of the Jewish faith, reflect on what the Star of David means for you, and how you feel when your eyes fall upon it. If you are Wiccan or Pagan, invoke the feeling that fills you when you catch a glimpse of a pentacle or a pentagram. You probably feel safe and protected; watched over.

If another student takes offense to a symbol of faith that is not his or her own, then the fault does not lie upon the individual wearing the symbol. It is no one’s fault if a student takes offense to another student’s symbol of faith, save that offended student’s for being intolerant to others’ religious beliefs and practices. Once again, punish not the victim, but the victimizer. It is unfair, as well as a violation of our rights and religious freedoms if we are prohibited from openly expressing our faiths for fear that a religiously-intolerant, or ignorant, individual may possibly be offended by our symbols.

To put a ban on the symbols of our faiths is ludicrous! This ban steals our freedom; freedom that was promised to us by our ancestors with the very first step that they took on this glorious land. This nation is great because we, the people, have freedoms and rights to practice whichever faith we choose; to openly express those religious beliefs, and because we are guaranteed separation of religion and state according to the Constitution of the United States, which was set forth by our forefathers.

Banning our right to wear our religious symbols, whether we are at school, work, or any place our feet may take us, is banning our freedom, and breaking the promises of our government. It is a violation of our rights which are given and promised to us by the Constitution. It is religious discrimination! We cannot stand back and allow this religious intolerance to continue! If we do, then little by little, day by day, month by month, year by year, our rights and freedoms will diminish until they become completely non-existent and forgotten! I am not going to allow this pilfering of my rights and freedoms to continue if I can help to make it cease and desist.

What about you? Are you ready to give away your rights, your freedoms? ...Your faith?

© Ash

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Orignal Publication Date: 2007
Note: This is the Persuasive Essay that is going to serve as the Final Exam of my English Composition class. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Main Source: http://www.religioustolerance.org