Religion in Our School

Religion in Our Schools
Posted on 04/27/2017

It was quite the atmosphere on Monday, April 24, when nearly 100 people packed the board room in the School District of the Menomonie Area’s administrative building. Several parents and community members shared their thoughts with the school board related to diversity in our schools, and how religion should or should not be included in the school district curriculum. It was very encouraging to see that so many people from our community are interested in public education and care so much about the learning opportunities provided for the children living in our community and attending our schools.

Based on some of the comments shared at the Board meeting and some of the complaints received by the school district, there appears to be a misunderstanding of the laws and complicated expectations related to religion in public schools. According to a legal opinion drafted by the school district’s attorney, Steve Weld, provisions in the United States and Wisconsin Constitutions operate to serve the same dual purpose of prohibiting the “establishment” of a religion, while also protecting the “free exercise” thereof. Over the years, court cases have defined how the Constitution is to be interpreted, and it has been clearly determined that not allowing a comparison of religions or studying the impact of religion on historical events is not a viable solution.  Prohibiting all religion from schools could result in the establishment of a “religion of secularism”, which would also be in violation of the Constitution. 

When applied to the operations of a public school district, the cases suggest that schools have a dual obligation for teaching about and comparing religions, while at the same time not endorsing any particular religion. This means that, over the course of the K-12 curriculum, information about all major religions should be shared in a manner that does not coerce students or advance any particular religion over another.

Much of the recent local attention related to religion in our schools was focused on a speaker from the Islamic Resource Group who was brought into Menomonie Middle School to provide eighth grade students with a 40-minute presentation of some cultural and religious context for the award-winning book, I Am Malala. While the intent of our teachers was pure, the presentation style and amount of detail provided by the speaker caused some parents and other school district stakeholders to be concerned. Also, while all eighth grade students and their parents were provided electronic and hardcopy notices and invitations to attend the special presentation, the option for students to opt-out of this special learning experience was not made as clear as it probably could have been.

Moving forward, school officials will continue the conversation surrounding this issue and work together with school stakeholders in an effort to make improvements in the school district and to ensure that the curriculum, instruction, and learning resources used in our schools best fit the needs and expectations of our local community. It is our intent during the upcoming weeks and months to review our K-12 curriculum and ensure that any religion being taught to our kids continues to be presented in a balanced, fair, and consistent manner. We also intend to review the policies and procedures in our school district that help ensure that those whose religion (or non-religion) is not shared by the majority of the community have the right to freely exercise that religion or culture. Finally, the Board plans to review the district’s policy for teaching controversial issues, and the procedures used for allowing students and/or parents to opt-out of some very specific and particular learning activities will be improved.

All parents, community members, and any other stakeholders of the School District of the Menomonie Area are invited to attend a special community forum on Religion in Our Schools scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Monday, May 15, in the Menomonie High School Tiered Lecture Hall. After a brief review of the legal issues, attendees will be provided the opportunity to share thoughts and suggestions related to religion in our schools.

Should school families or community stakeholders have any questions or concerns about this topic, or anything else in our school district, I invite you to visit me at the Administrative Service Center on Pine Avenue, or contact me at 715-232-1642. More information about our schools can be found on the school district website (, and I regularly post school-related information on Twitter ( and Facebook (

*Thank you to Stephen L. Weld, Attorney from Weld Riley, S.C., for contributing to this article.