constitution_against_flagFor more information, please refer to “Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools, 2007 Revision” by Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas. This publication can be downloaded from the First Amendment Center website.

1. Why does SISB teach about world religions and in particular about Islam and Muslims?

SISB upholds the belief that understanding world religions is critical in understanding world history.

SISB’s goal in teaching about Islam and Muslims is to supplement public school content standards for history and social studies in 6th through 12th grades as it relates to studies of Islamic civilizations in the Middle Ages; nation building in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia; the Atlantic Slave Trade; American immigration policies; and the fundamental values and principles of civil society and the historical role of religion and religious diversity.

In contemporary social studies the study of Muslims post 9/11 is especially important, for reasons similar to those for studying the Holocaust, to counter a growing Islamophobia that, like anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, has painted an entire faith and its adherents with a broad brush that attempts to vilify all Muslims. SISB believes that a better understanding of Muslims and their faith will result in a more peaceful, tolerant, and harmonious society and will reduce extremism and violence worldwide.

2. How does SISB teach about world religions, and in particular Islam?

SISB teaches about world religions, including Islam, in the context of religious pluralism and in accordance with First Amendment Center guidelines. As expressed by Dr. Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center, What is most impressive about SISB is the careful First Amendment Center [separation of church and state] training given to every speaker, especially those who give presentations in public schools.

3. What is the First Amendment Center?

The First Amendment Center was founded on the principles enshrined in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms by clarifying and educating the public on this subject. The Center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of issues relating to freedoms of expression, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and religion, and the right to assemble and to petition the government. Through its Religious Freedom programs, the Center helps schools and communities throughout the nation address issues concerning religion and values in public education. Learn more about Teaching About Religion: Do’s and Don’ts in public schools and the First Amendment center.

4. Why is the First Amendment so important?

Because it is central to the dual principles of separation of church and state as well as the protection of religious freedom that were envisioned by the founding fathers, who saw this new nation as a beacon of light in the dark history of religious intolerance and persecution. At SISB we believe that these guidelines and principles are essential to any conversation about religion in this country and continue to be critical in promoting interreligious discourse and understanding.

5. What are the First Amendment Center guidelines that SISB follows when teaching about religion?

SISB’s guidelines are adopted from the principles of the First Amendment Center. They include the following guidelines, which are emphasized in SISB’s training and certification of speakers and listed in SISB’s training manual: When delivering SISB presentations or when representing the organization in any capacity, SISB speakers and panelists shall adhere to the following First Amendment Center policies and guidelines for speaking about religion in the public square.

SISB policies for speaking about religion in the public square are as follows:

1. The role of speakers and panelists in the classroom is to serve and support the teacher(s) in his or her effort(s) to teach the curriculum relating to world religions. Speakers and panelists shall follow SISB-designed content that was created to supplement the required curriculum, based on specific state social studies standards.

2. In venues other than schools, presentations are tailored to fit the needs of the audience. Speakers and panelists shall follow pre-designed content that was created to supplement a particular program, whether for religious literacy or for cultural diversity or cultural competency education.

3. Presentations and panel discussions are academic (objective and neutral), not devotional (calling people to your religion). An SISB speaker and panelist shall present subjects relating to his or her religion as he or she would any other religion. A useful strategy to achieve this standard is to preface most statements, especially those concerning theology, with “according to (the particular religion)’s teachings…” or “(practitioners of a particular faith) believe ….”

4. SISB presentations inform the audience about religion and never attempt to impose belief in any religion or influence the audience to accept any particular religion.

5. SISB speakers or panelists shall strive for audience awareness of the religion they are representing and never press the audience to accept their religion.

6. In relating their religion to other religions, SISB speakers and panelists shall neither promote nor denigrate any other religious belief.

Speakers and panelists associated with SISB adhere to the aforementioned policies.