I am always amused at how public schools go out of their way to deny Christian students the ability to practice their religion (no, Good Friday is not a holiday you can’t take off for class) while bowing down to Muslim demands (yes, you can use a classroom for prayer).

Well, bully for the Muslims.

Maybe they’ll win back the ability of Christian minorities to also practice their religion in public schools.

Like allowing Catholic students an hour off on Holy Days to attend Mass.

Or letting the LDS students once again to hold Seminary classes in the high schools and get credit for their studies.

Or even (horror of horrors) allow student to chose to take an elective class taught by their own priest or minister or rabbi or Imman, open to all students but where the teacher is allowed to teach their own religion’s dogma and philosophy.
You see, the reason I am amused at the minor firestorm caused by this controversy is that I went to a Catholic school at my parish, which back then was free. Such Catholic schools lifted an entire generation of ethnic immigrants into the middle class, but that’s another story.

The point is that there was a Parish school system for me to attend because of the KnowNothing riots. Never heard of them? LINK

Catholics, who at that time meant mainly Irish Caholics, were considered to be a threat to America because they had allegence to a foreign power (i.e. the Pope), and blindly obeyed their priests in everything, not to mention being dirty lazy drunks who had too many kids.

Books and newspapers calculated to inflame the passions of the mob against their Irish and Catholic neighbours were extensively circulated. Catholic bishops and priests were maligned, their religion misrepresented and ridiculed, and acts of violence were committed against Catholics and their property. The burning of the Convent of the Ursuline nuns at Charleston, Massachusetts, in 1834, by a Native American mod, and their cruel treatment of the unoffending nuns and their pupils, were the most notable manifestations, up to that time, of the evil effect of religious hatred.

One of the side effects of all this bigotry was that when Catholics asked if their students, instead of having religious instruction and Bible reading (of the Protestant Bible) in public schools, similar to that allowed for other students, the request was denied. LINK

The unsuccessful attempt of Father Richard of Detroit in 1808 to obtain for the Catholic schools of that city a share of the public funds, was followed in 1830 by a more successful plan at Lowell, Mass….. After sixteen years of successful trial the arrangement was discontinued in 1852, owing to the wave of bigotry known as the Knownothing Movement that swept over New England.

In New York, as early as 1806, St. Peter’s School applied for and received State aid. A similar arrangement was made for St. Patrick’s School in 1816. In 1824 this support was withdrawn by the State, owing to the activity of the Public School Society. … In 1840 the School Controversy in New York was precipitated by the petition of the Catholics to be allowed a share of the public funds for their schools. … Bishop Hughes, supported not only by all his Catholic people, but also by some of the non-Catholic congregations of the city, urged the claims of religious education. He laid stress on the contention that Catholics have a right to “a fair and just proportion of the funds appropriated for the common schools, provided the Catholics will do with it the same thing that is done in the common schools”. He claimed no special privilege, but contended for the “constitutional rights” of his people. …. The controversy, however, had one good result. It showed the imminent danger to faith and morals existing in the public school system as influenced by the so-called non-sectarians of that day, and as a consequence Catholics set to work to build up, at a tremendous cost, a system of parochial schools unsupported by the State.

So, thanks to the misunderstanding of the Catholic faith and to the bigotry of the majority, the Parochial school system of many major cities came into existence.

And when the Supreme Court stopped Bible reading in pubic schools, Catholics were among those who supported the decision.

But instead of allowing equal access for all religions, instead the side effect seems to have been to eliminate any cooperation of schools with legal means to help pupils practice their religion.

Why shouldn’t students be able to schedule elective classes for outside religious teachers to teach? Muslim students could have their prayers during such a class, Catholic students could attend Mass or have catechism instructions, other students could have their pastor hold a bible study, Agnostics could practice Yoga and Athiests could take a course on David Hume.

The main way to keep such things “secular” is twofold: all groups have equal access, and to allow anyone the choice to attend such classes, within limits (i.e. no disruptions).

The courts have said that flex time, that allows students to attend classes in public school while attending parochial or home school for other classes, is one way that allows religion to be accomadated, but flex time is difficult and expensive for many parents and student. Renting out classrooms for such things should be legal. Why not allow “flex time” within the school itself? It would benefit not only religious students, but would reinforce the moral principals taught by all religious and ethical systems.

Simple common sense and respect please.

As for footwashing and space for Muslim ablutions: this is custom, not religion. (i.e it varies from country to country).

Schools have limited budgets. If a certain percentage of parents request a facility, they should get a private grant to pay for it. But those who disapprove should stop complaining. Ditto for modest gym uniforms. Even Manolo has had discussions on the need for attractive yet modest swim attire: the need is not limited to Muslims but includes Orthodox Jewish students and Christians.

We don’t need a new “Know-nothing” movement against Muslims.
Islamic parents need to know that they also have allies in their quest for their children’s moral and spiritual lives. And some of us remember our own history in trying to get accepted into American society.
And if you don’t win…just remember… start your own school system. It’s been done before.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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