Americans United for Separation of Church and State has launched a project to teach students about the importance of religious liberty in American history and life. Spokesmen for the group say Americans lack an understanding of religious liberty because public education does not include discussions about the role of religious freedom.

At a Washington, D.C., news conference, Americans United released a report sponsored by its research foundation. Charles C. Haynes, author of the report, analyzed how religious liberty is treated in leading history and civics textbooks. “Given the vitality of religious life in the events of U.S. history,” he said, “it is remarkable how little religion is mentioned [in school materials].” Haynes teaches at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.

Many teachers are confused about U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning the place of religion in public schools, Haynes said. As a result, teachers tend to gloss over lessons about religious liberty in order to avoid controversy.

Haynes recommended that Americans United develop new curriculum materials and work with other organizations to find new approaches to educate students about religious freedom. He is compiling a resource guide, listing books, articles, and films for classroom use. The guide will be mailed to social studies teachers around the country.

Americans United favors a strict definition of separation between church and state. In the past, the organization’s stand against school prayer and aid to parochial schools has put it at cross purposes with other religious groups. Robert Maddox, Americans United executive director, says the education project is one instance in which his organization can work closely with most other religious groups.

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