Here’s a helpful guide to religious freedoms as schools become a political-religious battleground


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project was founded in an effort to “bust” myths about minorities that complicate and in some cases seriously harm the lives of American individuals and families.


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By JOE GRIMM
Director of the MSU Bias Busters Project

Legislation in two states and reporting by Pew Research have brought disagreements about the relationship between religion and government into sharp focus this month. Schools are the battleground.

State actions have been taken in Louisiana and Oklahoma.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have sued to stop a new law requiring that every public classroom in Louisiana from elementary schools through colleges display the Ten Commandments. That would start in January.

In Oklahoma, PBS reports, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters has mandated that public school classrooms from grades 5-12 have copies of the Bible and that all teachers must teach from it. This also would begin in 2025.

In the midst of these actions, Pew reports that supporters of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, who backed the Louisiana law, disagree sharply on the proper role for religion in government. This party-line split has been similar for years.

According to Pew, 71% of U.S. voters overall said religion should be kept out of government. On the other hand, 28% said government should support religious beliefs.

Among Trump voters, 56% said religion and government policy should be separate from government policy while 43% said government policies should support religious values. A larger majority of Biden supporters, 86% to 13% said religion and government should be separate.

The Secular Coalition of America advocates for “the equal rights of nonreligious Americans” and “the separation of religion and government.”

The coalition calls the Louisiana Ten Commandments law “discriminatory against religious minorities and non-religious individuals” and “a clear breach of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Religious freedoms are explored in 100 Questions and Answers About the Religiously Unaffiliated: Nones, Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Freethinkers, Secularists and Skeptics, a guide from the the Michigan State University School of Journalism. This series of more than 20 books helps people get to know the many groups that comprise American society.

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