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Mindfulness vs. Christianity, the Constitution, and Public Schools: There’s a solution

Mindfulness

“Let’s not have fighting between us…after all, we’re family. Look around; isn’t there plenty of (room) out there?” (Genesis, The Message Translation)

FOUNDING FATHERS’ PERSPECTIVE

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” (First Amendment of the US Constitution)

FACTS

Mindfulness, a specific type of focused, quiet meditation originated over 3,500 years ago as an important religious teaching and practice of many Eastern religions including Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
Positive Psychology Program, 10/22/15. ‘History of Mindfulness: from religion to science”


For over a decade, Mindfulness and Yoga have been specifically taught in many public school districts during instructional time, by religious teachers, and with public funding. It’s also frequently required of students in situations such as suspension rooms.
Upworthy, 9/22/16. Gaines, James “This school replaced detention with meditation”


The religious practice of Christian prayer in public schools is constitutionally allowed, but ONLY if they choose to do so by themselves or with other students, during non-instructional time. Teachers are:

  • not allowed to teach children how to pray,
  • not allowed to require the students’ participation,
  • not allowed to use public funds, and
  • church representatives are not allowed to come to school during instructional time to teach children how to pray.

The Gospel Coalition, 9/24/15. “Know your rights as a Christian in a public school”


The modern day growth of mindfulness began in 1979 when Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biologist and follower of Buddhism, started the Stress Reduction Clinic and Study of Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. As promoted by Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness was simply a type of psycho/neurological therapy that could be practiced without any religious connections, and would help to relieve stress and pain.
Wikipedia. “Jon Kabat-Zinn”


Kabat-Zinn portrays his teaching of mindfulness as non-religious. He emphasizes that it’s nothing more than giving full attention to what you are doing at any particular moment, and avoiding distraction. He believes this exercise strengthens the mind like a muscle, and changes the way it functions: a concept called neural plasticity.

Kabat-Zinn’s early patients, including businessmen and the military, started reporting lower levels of stress and even reduction of pain. Some educators became convinced that teaching mindfulness would benefit students in our schools, and pilot programs were tried. Today, mindfulness is a multi-billion dollar industry, and is taught to millions of students in countless schools in the US.
Time Magazine, 2/3/14. Pickert, Kate. “The mindful revolution”


A growing challenge to mindfulness training in public schools is coming from Christian and atheist groups, and Constitutionalist legal foundations. Their complaints are not primarily with the concept of mindfulness, but with the facts that:

  • It is required for all students during the school day
  • It typically uses public funds and is frequently taught by religious teachers
  • It constitutes a kind of “stealth Buddhism” or covert proselytizing in public schools
  • It forces children who are Christians to accept teachings contrary to their beliefs
  • It violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment

Change.org. Chwartkowski, Ray. “Please remove mindfulness programs from Canadian public schools”
Huffington Post, 4/17/13 . Gregoire, Carolyn. “Elementary school in Ohio shuts down mindfulness due to parent complaints”
National Center for Law and Policy, 2/2/16. “Dennis-Yarmouth School District case”
Religious Dispatches, 12/15/14. “Hide the religion, feature the science: 60 minutes drops the ball on mindfulness”


SUMMARY

Everyone agrees that children benefit from learning how to focus their thinking, behave positively, resolve stressful situations, and practice kind, compassionate behavior. Believers in the practice of mindfulness feel its teachings can be very beneficial to students in providing this help. Believers in Christian-based prayer feel the same way about their methods. Atheists believe that strengthening our thinking can be taught to children in public schools with methods that have no religious connection of any kind. The conflict centers around how to offer and pay for public school programs that can benefit students without favoring one belief system over another, and avoiding violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.


POSSIBLE SOLUTION

Public schools could offer students a wide menu of strictly voluntary elective classes or after school programs on how to control their thinking and behavior, resolve stressful situations, and improve their decision-making. Any organization that wanted to offer religious or non-religious-based classes, after being vetted by the school district, could provide instructors and materials at no cost to the school or students. The school would provide parents with a list explaining the class options, and leave the decision on participation up to the parent and child.


Brief #26A – February 14, 2017

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