Mid-Missouri Festival of Faiths will focus on religion and schools

The third annual Mid-Missouri Festival of Faiths will focus on the connections between religion in schools.

“Religion in Public Schools” will bring together people from various religious traditions and spur discussions on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, said Robert Pinhero, an education and training consultant.

Presented by the Capital Area Interfaith Alliance, the event will be from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. April 4 at First Christian Church, 327 E. Capitol Ave. in Jefferson City.

To register for the event, go to facebook.com/blessingindiversity and click on the link in the organization’s Facebook page by March 20. There is a $15 charge to cover the costs of food and refreshments.

Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. April 4. The formal program will begin at 9 a.m. Lunch will be served.

Tony Simones, director of citizenship education for the Missouri Bar Association, will give the keynote “presentation.” Organizers are calling it a presentation because it is to begin a conversation about how issues may be resolved.

“One of the things I have come to understand from 25 years of teaching in the university classroom is that people learn best, not when they are lectured at, but rather, when they are challenged to think for themselves and to put forth their perspectives,” Simones told the News Tribune in an email. “Where they listen to the ideas of others and arrive at their own conclusions about the material.”

He will discuss the First Amendment and schools and provide a brief review of some historical court decisions concerning school prayer.

“Most people know the Supreme Court has ruled consistently that school prayer is unconstitutional, but they don’t really understand why the Court has taken this position,” Simones said. “Most people think that the Supreme Court’s opposition to school prayer means that any mixing of schools and religion will be found to be unconstitutional. However, that is not necessarily the case. In this session, we will examine how the Supreme Court has ruled on issues involving education and religion and how the Court justifies its decisions.

“Discussions about religion and the Constitution occur in the context of differing interpretations of the First Amendment,” he continued. “What people know as the Establishment Clause is contained within 10 words: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Workshops will follow, with emphasis on what it’s like for people practicing various religions to be enrolled in public schools.

“The breakouts will deal with folks from non-Christian backgrounds and how religion impacted their school experiences,” Pinhero told the News Tribune in an email. “We will have Judaism, Buddhism, Christian Scientists and Muslim perspectives.”

Attendees will also participate in discussions about how religion is handled in schools.

Cliff Cain, professor of religious studies at Westminster College, will moderate an interactive panel discussion to close the day.

Each spring, the Festival of Faith celebrates local religious diversity, strives to educate participants about other people’s faiths and seeks cooperation and increased understanding among the various religions in Mid-Missouri, according to a Capital Area Interfaith Alliance news release. The organization asks all join and share their perspectives.