A Message from Our 2016 Adam Solomon Award Winner

Chris Murray

Chris Murray

This June, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will be leading a historic new course on religious literacy education in our public schools. Thirty-five teachers will spend 45 hours touring, learning, discussing, and creating lessons that will increase teachers’ religious literacy and confidence in teaching about religion in public schools. Amid recent reports of increased bullying targeting schoolchildren from religious minorities, conference participants will investigate methods of effectively training students to analyze the role of religion in American public life.

The MCPS-developed course, Religious Literacy for Educators, will allow teachers from across the district to meet one another and learn from some of the nation’s finest religious studies scholars. Beginning June 27, the course will feature introductions from experts on Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, as well as four site visits to places of worship. Teachers will also hear from Montgomery County and national leaders about the importance of having a more religiously literate community. The course has already received approval from both the County and the State and allows teachers to receive three credits for salary advancement.

If you are interested in learning more about creating a similar course or sharing ideas please feel free to contact myself or Ben Marcus, who in April, helped create at Prospect High School (outside Chicago) a conference on religious literacy education in public secondary schools with teachers, administrators, professors, and consultants from around the country. The conference connected these different constituencies to facilitate the development and implementation of constitutionally appropriate, robust lessons for teaching about religion. Participants were able to participate in groundbreaking model lesson plans created by local teachers John Camardella and Seth Brady, both of whom have received statewide recognition and awards for excellence in teaching.

Chris Murray
Walter Johnson High School, MCPS

Benjamin Marcus
Newseum Institute

Mental Illness and Murderous Revenge on NYC Subway Platform

Last Thursday, Sunando Sen was pushed onto the tracks and crushed to death by a NYC subway train. He was shoved by a woman who reportedly was sitting, muttering to herself just before the incident. Emerging reports indicate that the perpetrator was well known to the mental health system and to law enforcement.

The motivation for her violence was seemingly infected with the disease of religious prejudice and hate. Last Saturday, the suspect, who implicated herself in the murder, apparently admitted that she was motivated by revenge: revenge against Muslims and Hindus.

The full story about this brutal killing is still unclear and suggests a series of ills in our society. There is the story of the woman, who was talking to herself and then, seemingly spontaneously, pushed a man to his death. Easily, this narrative contributes to the national conversation about the mental health system. It is possible that her violence was triggered by prejudice and hateful self-talk about Muslims and Hindus.  And this reminds us of another societal ill – unfounded but virulent religious prejudice. 

In every way, this event is a tragedy. The random violence that robbed Mr. Sen of his life while he was attempting to travel home was senseless. Too many heartbreaking reports have filled the news recently. 

The perpetrator’s  history of mental illness, continued treatment efforts and violence remind us how far we need to go to prevent such acts.

And if hatred and unfounded blame truly fed the perpetrator’s action, the tragedy is magnified. Unjust stereotyping, ignorance and hatred against religious groups  too often leads to vigilante citizen profiling. Such stereotypes are fueled by some members of the media, by professional hatemongers and by a failure of the education system to teach our children about different religious beliefs and shared values. 

Hatred and prejudice trigger violence, fueling not only the paranoid and mentally ill, but also blinding too many of us to the humanity in each person. We may not be able to stop mental illness, but we are able to improve treatment. And through education and standing up to hate mongers, we can overcome religious hate.

When are we going to start acknowledging that hatred against a person because of his or her real or perceived religious beliefs is not acceptable?  Each of us has the right to practice faith however we choose. Religious identity is never an acceptable reason for violence. 

To the extent that this tragedy is a result of illness, we must all demand that such illness continue to be treated and that misleading stereotypes be stopped because they can be a trigger for violence among some mentally unstable individuals.

As for Mr. Sen, it is reported  that he lived with two men, one of whom was Muslim. That man, Ar Suman, said that he and Mr. Sen openly discussed religion and that Mr. Sen deplored violence done in the name of faith around the world.

As we enter 2013, isn’t it time for all of us to take a cue from Mr. Sen and Mr. Suman? Shouldn’t we learn from our Muslim and Hindu neighbors – and our neighbors of every background? Isn’t it time to practice respectful curiosity? If we do, we can help end religious violence and bring the world one step closer to world peace. And wouldn’t that be wonderful?