“Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”
– G. K. Chesterton
What will we pass on to the next generation?
The answer, if it is to be worthwhile, lies in how we educate them—by example, by discipline and by schooling. This last is society’s way, as Mr. Chesterton put it, of passing its soul safely to those who will inherit that society.
To help guarantee that future generations have a firm understanding of their freedom of religion, of the profound value of their freedom of religion, and of the direct relationship between their freedom of religion and all other freedoms, the newly formed Religious Freedom Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom Education (CRFE) has released a curriculum for students of all ages, the America’s First Freedom Curriculum (AFFC), a program geared toward teaching the background, reasons for and vital importance of religious freedom.
In the words of CRFE’s Director, David Trimble, “Our children and our future leaders need to know the critical role that religion and religious freedom play in American society.” Mr. Trimble points out scholars have long observed that every human society has elements of religion embedded in it, so RFI’s course of study emphasizes that religion is rooted in human nature. Like all things that validate instead of degrade the human condition, the full and free exercise of one’s natural inclination to believe, to have faith, and to know that there is Something beneficial in the universe that gives life meaning, inevitably produces widespread benefit in the human condition. Trimble adds, “Religious freedom contributes to a host of other social goods such as economic growth, political stability, equality under the law and the decline of religious persecution.”
There is a profound lack of education in America on the First Amendment.
RFI’s America’s First Freedom Curriculum is a study experience intended for junior and senior-level high schoolers in private, homeschool and public school settings. It consists of five lessons: (1) How Is Religious Freedom Rooted in Human Nature? (2) What Did the Founders Mean By Religious Freedom? (3) What Moral or Religious Cases Can Be Made for Religious Freedom? (4) Are There Political Reasons to Support Religious Freedom? (5) Is Religious Freedom Solely an American Ideal? These lessons can be taught together or each as a separate, stand-alone course of study.
The philosophy underlying the course is that we simply cannot wait for the legal system to guarantee our rights and freedoms. These rights and freedoms flourish best through education rather than legislation. That education is an effective solution is demonstrated by the example of Youth For Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization that has created change across the globe through a curriculum structured around a grounding in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ 30 articles. YHRI works to remedy the fact that most people simply don’t know their individual human rights, if they even know what “human rights” are.
Similarly, a random perusal of a textbook on American history or civics reveals scant space devoted to the importance of freedom of religion. Just like the situation regarding human rights, there is a profound lack of education in America on the First Amendment. The AFFC is geared to remedy just that lack and bring religious freedom to the forefront in the minds of youth.
The First Amendment which guaranteed the free exercise of religion was ratified in 1791. It was literally the first right laid down by America’s founders.
As Mr. Trimble observes, “Far too many Americans today simply don’t know that our nation’s founders came to understand religious freedom as our first freedom. We want America’s students to understand it that way as well.”