Separation of Church and State

Are America’s schools hostile to religion? There’s been a tussle over this issue since the early 60s, when the Supreme Court ruled that prayer and school-sponsored Bible reading were unconstitutional. Since then, evangelical Christians have claimed that God and religion have all but been driven out of education and secular Americans, concerned about blurring the wall between church and state, have been vigilant over any erosion of that separation. The fact is religion has been a part of America’s classrooms ever since there were public schools.

Logo courtesy of Mark Lerner

For this show, I spoke with journalist Linda K. Wertheimer, the author of Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion In an Age of Intolerance.  In her book, she has a chapter titled “The Church Lady,” where she recounts her experience of her family moving from western New York to a town in Ohio.  The Wertheimer’s were the only Jews in that community.  Linda and her brother felt confused and ostracized when a lady came to their classroom each week to lead a class that felt less like social studies and more like Sunday school.  Linda recalls all of her classmates singing, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me,” but she was the only one who didn’t know the words.

The appropriate balance of religion in American public education is something that’s been debated since Horace Mann initiated the first public schools in the 1800s.  In the most recent episode of Us & Them, host Trey Kay hears from Linda K. Wertheimer, author of Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion In an Age of Intolerance

In the 1970s, Wertheimer was a 9-year-old student from the only Jewish family in a small Ohio town.  She was confused and felt very uncomfortable when the “Church Lady” would appear in her class each week to have the kids sing “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.”  Linda was the only kid who didn’t know the words to the song. 

Trey spoke with Beth Vorhees about America’s tense history in addressing religion in public school classrooms.