WHS newspaper asks whether a religion class elective should be offered

By Gary Huffenberger - Staff columnist

The January 27 edition of the Wilmington High School student-produced newspaper “The Hurricane” contained two articles, basically pro and con, on whether WHS should offer an elective class about religion. Intriguing.

As an optional elective course, no student of course would be required to take it. The aim in a public school, clearly, cannot be to make converts. Accordingly, the purpose of public school religion classes often is described as “religious literacy” — that is, for the students to become more knowledgeable about various religions practiced in the world.

Reading the two articles by Sophie Huffman and Lee Lynch in the WHS newspaper, it appears a desire to learn more about many religions may be a driver for a number of WHS students who favor a religion elective.

A course where students learn about the roles religion and the faithful have played in the history of the United States is also constitutional, according to the WHS coverage.

One reason given in “The Hurricane” against starting a religion class at the school is that it “could open the door for problems and conflicts, which is why several WHS students disagree with the idea.”

That’s a valid concern, though not necessarily reason enough to say goodbye to the prospect.

Having ground rules can help alleviate conflicts — such as a teacher declaring an “ouch, oops policy” as a tool. This is where if someone says something hurtful or problematic then another person can say “ouch,” which lets everyone know there’s something that needs to be discussed further.

In the same vein, a person who says something hurtful can say “oops” to acknowledge what they’ve done (or, better yet, they can say they’re sorry).

I want to propose a religion classroom as a golden place to practice keeping a hospitable tone.

Sometimes we hear people say religion is a deeply personal matter, but can it not also be a deeply interpersonal matter?

What I think I would like to see in an optional high school religion class has less to do with students rote memorizing the formulated beliefs of particular religions to prepare for the final exam, and more to do with real dialogue about ways of life and deepest commitments.


By Gary Huffenberger

Staff columnist