Another area in which the views of Jehovah’s Witnesses may affect their schooling involves the curriculum. So, what is presented here is meant to promote understanding and cooperation between teachers and Witness parents, since we believe that it is particularly the parents who are responsible to choose what their children will be taught.
Religion and Prayer: Some schools include religious instruction in the classroom. At one time parents in the United States were required to say whether they wanted their children instructed in the Catholic, Protestant or Jewish religion. A child that was not signed up for religious instruction had to leave the classroom and carry on secular studies elsewhere. But then, in 1948, the Supreme Court of the country stated:
“The First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. . . . the First Amendment has erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.”—McCollum v. Board of Education (1948).
Later, on June 17, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled against Bible reading and prayer in public schools. Justice Brennan explained in his opinion: “The spirit of our federal and state constitutions from the beginning . . . [has] been to leave religious instruction to the discretion of parents.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses agree that it is the parents’ responsibility to give their children religious instruction. Therefore, where religious instruction is given in class, Witness parents will request that their children be excused. If the religious course includes participating in a form of worship that we consider to be unbiblical, such as bowing before images, Witness parents do not approve of this under any circumstances.
On the other hand, if there is simply an objective classroom study of various religions or of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no objection. So if a school arranges talks by representatives of various religions, not to proselytize, but simply to inform the students about those religions, Witness students will respectfully listen. Similarly, when invited, Jehovah’s Witnesses are pleased to give talks to school groups, explaining their religious beliefs.
In some schools the Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, is repeated on a regular basis. Although Jehovah’s Witnesses accept that prayer, we do not join in its ritualistic repetition. This is because at the very time Jesus provided that model prayer he counseled against praying “the same things over and over again.” (Matthew 6:7, 8) Another reason we do not participate is that we do not share in any interfaith religious services.
Sex Education: Health and hygiene have long been subjects taught in public schools. We appreciate that these courses have been very helpful in teaching the value of cleanliness, disease prevention, care of children, family responsibility, and so forth. But today many schools are also providing explicit education in sexual matters, including contraception, masturbation, homosexuality and abortion.
Sex education is generally provided without moral guidance. In fact, it is not infrequent that educators themselves will criticize the moral standards of the Bible. Therefore Witness parents are very concerned about what is taught in sex education classes.
One book used in some schools, entitled Dreng og pige, mand og kvinde (Boy and Girl, Man and Woman), says, “Each individual must have the right to satisfy his sexual needs independent of age, sex and—as far as it does not invade the rights of others—of the method used.” So, as to sex relations with animals, this book states: “In this country [Denmark], . . . it is lawful to satisfy sexual desires in this way.” Yet God’s Law to Israel said: “Anyone lying down with a beast is positively to be put to death.”—Exodus 22:19.
As emphasized earlier, Jehovah’s Witnesses try to follow the Bible’s moral principles and to inculcate these into their children. Therefore they do not want their children to receive sex education from those who do not respect these principles. Thus if Witness parents feel their children are being indoctrinated with ideas, and/or visual matter, that blatantly undermine principles being taught at home, they may request that their young ones be released from sex education classes.
Science and Evolution: Jehovah’s Witnesses are keenly interested in science. They have respect for the dedicated scientists who have added greatly to our understanding of the world around us. We encourage our young people to study the various branches of science, since this will help to increase their appreciation for the wisdom and power of our Creator.
But not all that is called science is necessarily fact. There are also theories, such as the theory of evolution, that are often passed off as scientific fact. Evolution asserts that the first living organism evolved from nonliving matter. Then, as that organism reproduced, its offspring changed and branched out to produce ultimately all the living things, including all people that have ever lived on the earth.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe this theory to be true. Nor do we go to the other extreme of believing that creation took seven literal days. We believe that the first man and woman were created by God, as were all other kinds of life. So if theories about the origins of living things are considered in class, we appreciate it when teachers respect the Bible-based beliefs of Witness youths. Actually, we feel these beliefs are in harmony with scientific facts, which Witness youths will be pleased to share with you.
Music and Art Instruction: Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe there is anything wrong with music or art instruction in itself. However, Witness youths do not participate in any kind of music and art instruction in connection with religious or patriotic holidays. When it comes to sharing in a school’s music education program, there are factors that Witness youths and their parents will take into consideration.
For example, they will consider where and under what circumstances the instruction is received, as well as the nature of the music played. If the instruction involves serving in a band that may be expected to perform at affairs that have political or religious connections, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not participate. Even during practice sessions, Witness students would not share in playing national anthems or songs connected with religious or national holidays. Another matter to be considered would be the amount of time involved, and whether there would be interference with Christian meetings and family activities.
Combat Instruction: In some schools military training is given students. Yet Jehovah’s Witnesses want to be among those of whom the Bible says: “They will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses ask to be excused from military training classes at school.
The Bible also says: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18) The application of these principles in our lives also affects our attitude toward other forms of combat. These include the martial arts, such as judo, karate and kendo, as well as boxing and wrestling. Although these activities may be labeled sports, we view participation in them as training for the purpose of fighting or hurting others. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take part in such combat activities. Although Witness youths ask to be excused from participation in them, they gladly cooperate to the extent possible in other school-hour physical education programs.
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We encourage our young people to study the various branches of science
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Courts have ruled that religious instruction should be left to the discretion of parents