Understanding Other Religious Beliefs

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Objectives: 

Activities will help students:

  • define and understand religious freedom 
  • learn to communicate about religion with sensitivity

Essential Questions: 

  • What is religious freedom?
  • Why should you show respect for other people’s religious beliefs?

Materials Needed: 

Framework
Understanding religious beliefs other than one’s own is a key element of tolerance, since faith traditions often define a significant part of a person’s identity. In the United States, the spectrum of religious diversity is a part of our culture as a whole, and religions can sometimes be at the center of political debate. This can happen when certain laws impact the way a person practices his or her religion. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not permitted to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as it violates elements of their belief system. Another example of religion clashing with politics is at the forefront of debate right now.

Great controversy has swirled around the planned construction of Park 51’s Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan. Resistance to building mosques in communities is not new. Many communities around the United States, such as in Sheboygan, Wisconsin or in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, have tried to prevent or forestall the building of mosques in their towns. These incidents have sparked much conversation about the ideas of religious freedom and tolerance. To introduce this topic to younger students, an exploration of religions and of religious freedom can help.

Professional Development

  • What’s a Teacher to Do? provides several tips for setting up a culturally sensitive classroom.
  • Maintain Neutrality helps teachers understand how schools can teach religious tolerance—and stay within constitutional bounds.

Glossary

Religious freedom [rel-ih-jus frē-dəm]
(noun) the right to practice any religion you choose, or to live without any religion at all

Activities

1)    In your notebook, list the names of as many different religions or faith traditions you know about. Share your lists with the class. (Note: As students recite their lists, create a master list on chart paper. If students struggle with this activity, you may want to add the following to the list: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, Baha’i Faith, Sikhism, Jainism, Shinto, Confucianism, Wicca, etc.)

2)    In America, religious freedom is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Religious freedom can be defined as “the right to practice any religion you choose, or to live without any religion at all, without the government getting involved.” Put this definition into your own words and tell it to a partner. (Note: You may wish to define “government getting involved” as “the law telling you what you can and can’t do in the way you practice your religion.”)

3)    (Note: Assign each student one religion from the list above to research. You can have students complete their research online using a site such as National Geographic for Kids. Alternatively you can work with your school librarian to pull selected books on each religion for students to check out.) Your teacher will assign you one religion to research. Create a poster to present information about that religion. On your poster you may want to include information about some of the following:

  • Major beliefs
  • Sacred texts
  • Festivities and ceremonies
  • Clothing

4)    Present your poster to the class. After each student presents, the rest of the class should respond using the handout Speaking With Respect.

5)    Hang up your posters around the room so that everyone can learn more about different religious beliefs.

Additional Resources

Extension Activity: 

Organize a “Religious Diversity Day” in your school district where all students, teachers, and administrators can learn about different religious customs and traditions. You can even invite guest speakers from your community to join in a discussion.