Commentary: On Religious Institutions: Be Aware

Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, recently became an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School, a conservative school that forbids students to have homosexual parents. Another religiously-affiliated school, Covington Catholic High School, also recently sparked conversation online when students from the school surrounded a Native American elder in a rally in Washington D.C. This incident invoked an outcry about racism on social media. Having attended a similar religious school before Andover, I am deeply concerned. Instead of being nonchalant towards religious institutions, we should actively evaluate their policies and actions so they can be more inclusive, less political, and less intrusive towards the students’ rights.

Let me explain. In the Covington incident, three parties were part of the conflict: the Black Hebrew Israelites, the Native Americans, and the mostly-white Covington students. Many of the students from Covington wore MAGA hats, which some believe symbolizes white-supremacy. If the school had a more politically and ethnically diverse student body, the three-party conflict might have been lowered to the clash of different opinions than of ethnicity and race. Covington should also better observe the diversity of religions and opinions in America and teach the students about them, so they will understand people with different opinions better, for misunderstanding played a significant part in the incident. If the students were to understand the partly extreme views of Black Hebrew Israelites, if they had known the rituals of Native Americans pleading for peace, would the tension be quickly amplified?

History has taught us too many grim lessons regarding the biases of religions, like the crusades and the jihads, and we should prevent them from happening again to the best of our abilities. However, I understand that it is difficult to maintain a diverse student body when it comes to religion. In my previous religious school, out of all the Christian faculty members, only two were African-American and only one was Asian. The rest were all white. Indeed, the ethnic makeup of religions are usually homogeneous because all religions originate from different ethnic groups. Regardless, however, administrators of religious institutes should intentionally embrace diversity to benefit their institutes, and we as a community should encourage them to do so.

We should also examine the rules of religious institutes so that schools do not take advantage of the students of their rights in the name of religion. It is a fact that students of Covington Catholic High School were attending the pro-life march in Washington D.C. under the school’s transportation and sponsorship. However, I am strongly against this action because I don’t believe in educational institutes using their religion to advocate for a political cause. Like the United States has committed to the principle of separation of church and state since its beginning, educational institutes should commit to some measure of separation. Further, because students might not have fully-formulated political attitudes, educational institutions should aim to educate, rather than motivate, their students about politics.

Violations of the rights of students also appear in Mrs. Karen Pence’s case, for the religious school can expel students if their parents or guardians are non-heterosexual. This rule clearly denies a student’s right of receiving education for a reason that a student cannot control, which to some extent is quite similar to ethnicity. And, the only basis of the rule is the school’s specific branch of Christianity. Thus, we should be fully aware of the rules of religious institutions to protect the students’ rights.

To clarify, I am not condemning religious institutes. I have completed a religion-based ninth grade history course, and I appreciate the strong understanding of religious texts I gained through it. Higher religious educations from non-secular institutes can also be beneficial, as a thorough education on theology and religions often helps shape the greatest minds of history. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister as well as a civil rights activist, earned his bachelor degree in Crozer Theological Seminary before he proceeded to Boston University to study systematic theology. Therefore, religious institutes should be regulated rather than terminated. Besides, I respect religions and practice religion myself. However, I believe religion should not be enforced on others via education or any means, especially students who are still learning about the world every day. It should be established upon personal freedom, knowledge, and belief, not conformity under the disguise of education.

Andover is non-denominational, and I am grateful for its effort on inclusion and diversity. However, it has not always been so—few recognize that the school constitution started with “A SHORT reflection upon the grand design of the great PARENT OF THE UNIVERSE,” according to the Constitution of Phillips Academy. Neither do many remember that all-school chapel preaching was mandatory on Wednesdays not even half a century ago. Let us better recognize the impact of religion throughout the history of our school. The closely tied relationships between educational institutes and religion should be reviewed and regulated, and Andover should be no exception.

Jason Huang is a new Lower from Shanghai, China. Contact that author at