'Moral Education
For Non-Believers'
In Belgium
Dirk Vandyck

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Vandyck Dirk"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Friday, September 15, 2000 3:32 PM

During Colonial times (before 1776) the American Colonies were under British rule. Since the founding of The United States of America in 1789 we have had strict separation of state and church (though this is not always easy to enforce). Indeed, the states had some leeway in this regard, until the Fourteenth Amendment shortly after the Lincoln Administration and the Civil War. But until recently, a state-funded religious school of any kind would have been unheard of. Lately, moves to provide government-funded vouchers for religious schools have succeeded in some states, but in almost all the cases, the courts have ruled these schemes unconstitutional. No so-called Christian education would prosper even if they did find a way to place it into the public school curriculum because even amongst Christians there is little agreement even as to whether the Christian religion is about ethics (some say that it's not morality but faith that gets you into Heaven).

As for teaching ethics, this would be a tough one in the United States simply because we are such a diverse group of people. What would a government-run ethics class say about homosexuality, for example? Either side of the question would raise problems with one group or the other. As a government, we try to stress neutrality, and emphasize allowing parents to choose such things as which ethical systems they will teach to their children.

We do have private schools that are secular, and that do teach various ethical systems. And the public schools do teach the basics, mainly because the schools need for the students to be able to get along, but the rest is mostly based upon the responsibilities of American citizenship (obedience to the law, etc.). Some of the major systems are probably covered by the time a student gets to high school, and ethics is offered at almost all college-level institutions. However, I do not remember learning anything in the public school except what was against the law and what was against the school rules.

Perhaps it would be good for Americans to establish some private, after-school tutoring programs (or even commercial television programs) that familiarize students with the basic ethical systems -- both secular and religious -- so that students would have some tools to work with by the time they become adults. The problem here, though, is that we are so diverse: any proposed system, no mater how carefully chosen, is guaranteed to conflict with someone's cultural background.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Serving those without theism for five years

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