After virtually disappearing for more than two decades, religion makes a comeback in the classroom.

Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Muhammad are all headed back into America’s classrooms this fall. Ostracized since the early sixties, when the Supreme Court ruled out praying in public schools, religion is once again finding a place next to reading, writing, and ’rithmetic.

A new wave of textbooks and supplemental curricula that teach about religion is catching on nationwide. In addition, teachers are attending state-sanctioned seminars designed to debunk the 30-year-old myth that they can’t mention the “r” word in class.

Some, like Georgia high-school history instructor Ken Russell, a committed Southern Baptist, have always tried tactfully to include religion in their teaching. Most, however, simply have avoided the subject.

But faced with the steady increase in drug abuse and violence, and the erosion of basic values such as honesty and responsibility, liberal and conservative policy makers agree that American students are missing something in their education. “Folks have re-evaluated the situation, and have seen that the kids are not getting any moral absolutes,” Russell contends. And he is joined by a growing number of school officials who say an understanding of major religions might be a missing factor in the public schools.

The Big Chill

The Supreme Court’s 1962 decision on prayer sent a chill through public-school systems and textbook publishers, who chose to avoid controversy and legal battles by avoiding the subject of religion altogether. Eventually, even the mention of religion in the classroom came to be viewed as impermissible, though that was never the intent of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The message that people heard ...

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