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Religious Liberty in the Educational System of the United States

From the 1980s to the Present


Iwona Zamkowska

Nearly a third of religious liberty cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court addressed religion and education. Numbers that high, the problem definitely deserves consideration of international public. What were the main forces that shaped religious liberty in public education in one of its most formative periods? Did the introduction of religious liberty legal framework in public schools advance religious liberty of students as independent autonomous actors? The author discusses this cultural problem from a broad and complex perspective: both internationally recognized theory of a child’s religious freedom rights and the American models of religious liberty. To cover a wide spectrum of viewpoints, she analyses a broad selection of documents, from state and NGO publications to media coverage.

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The problem of religious liberty is important to investigate as it addresses vital processes that shape present-day democracies and may have a considerable impact on their future. In the United States, the public education sector is among the most illustrative of the problem due to the compulsory character of public education, its formative function, as well as the highest record of legal cases decided in courts pertaining to religious freedom issues.

The focus of this study entitled Religious Liberty in the Educational System of the United States from the 1980s to the Present, is limited to the religious liberty rights of students. It complements the existing research by examining the religious freedom provisions from a broad and complex perspective that incorporates the provisions of Robert Alexy’s theory of the positive and negative rights of a child to religious freedom, as well as a three-patriate model of religious freedom in the American public square devised by Michael Zuckert, and a wide spectrum of viewpoints including liberal and conservative factions as well as the majority and minority faiths. The problem is presented in a historical perspective in order to demonstrate the formation of the concept of religious freedom in educational policy of the United States, starting from the 1980s with the emergence of the New Consensus on Teaching about Religion in Public Schools, until the early 21st century. The topic is situated in the domain of cultural studies and adopts a qualitative approach to research with collecting documents...

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