One of the things we mentioned in passing at a recent meeting was accomodating students with "a sincere religious feeling or belief." The phrase stuck in my head all the rest of the day, and not in a good way.
You might think that I, a pretty open athiest, would have problems with accomodating students' religious needs (we're talking about dealing with students who need to skip class for a religious observance and such, primarily). But I have no problem with that. For one thing, it almost never comes up; the state holidays pretty much cover the big Christian holidays, and most of our students are at least nominally Christian. I've had a few students here skip Ash Wednesday morning class and a few students need to not attend something for another religious observance. For the other thing, it's usually one or two students who are easily accomodated. We simply whatever plan what work needs to be done ahead of time, and in every case, the student has handled his/her part well.
But the part that stuck in my head was about the "sincere." How am I supposed to judge a student's religious sincerity? And why do I care? Because, honestly, if a student wants to celebrate Talk like a Pirate Day, then why not? And if there's nothing sincere beyond a strong sense of humor and irony, well, why not?
But in my life, every time I've seen someone's religious sincerity questioned, it's been someone with relatively little power who is exploring a non-Judeo-Christian tradition whose sincerity is questioned by someone from the dominant Judeo-Christian tradition. It's the student who is beginning to practice Buddhism or Baha'i who gets questioned, and who has little defense because s/he is trying to understand a new, complex tradition without family or community support.
I would like to see more students exploring different traditions seriously, working to understand the value in those traditions, and using whatever insights s/he gains to think critically about Judeo-Christian traditions.
And even more, I'd love for a student to want to celebrate Talk like a Pirate Day.