Yes...the "in peace" is necessary, to protect from accusations that freedom to practice a religion in peace leaves the idea open for abuse and violence. ANY idea is open for abuse; that's a fact of life in a fallen world.  That does not mean the idea is means people are bad.

That said, if a person chooses to practice their religion in the way that they believe most honors God and if that way is not proven to be inherently harmful to others,  they should be allowed to practice in peace.

we have a student in our class (I'll call her Maria - NOT her real name) who is a Jehovah's Witness.   Today is Maria's birthday.  And yet...even though Maria tells us that "we don't celebrate birthdays", our lead teacher had us bake a cake in cooking class and the students sang happy birthday (led by another staff).   As a Christian, I have a real issue with a public school employee directly choosing to introduce into a specific student's school day an action that is in direct contradiction to a parent's  religious conviction.

* there are times when the entire class participates in a "thing" that is contrary to a religious conviction - this is the opposite of what I am talking about.  At Christmas time we went to Meijer Garden to see Christmas trees.  Maria stayed home rather than participate in an event for the entire class.  Today, Maria was the reason for the celebration.  I have had people of other religions in classes before and they are pretty understanding of the class as a whole - students have eaten birthday cake and Christmas candy, yet not taken part in the "party scene".

A run down on situations I have run into:

  • Valentine's - some do, some don't.  A student who has parents who teach them that giving valentine's is glorifying humans rather than God should not be pressured to give valentine's
  • Going out for pizza - last year I had a Muslim student; just try taking a class out for pizza and finding a place that can assure us that pork has never touched either the pizza or the equipment it was prepared with.
  • Christmas - we have a young man who REALLY wants to be in choir.  He loves to sing, but the main feature of the school choir is a Christmas concert.
  • sex ed - we have an "opt-out" clause that allows a parent to review the curriculum and opt their student out of sex ed that teaches that which the parent does not want taught.
  • Harry Potter (and like that).  There were two second grade students at a school that I worked at several years ago whose parents wanted them to leave the classroom when Harry Potter was being read.  The teacher not only refused to design an alternate lesson plan (which could have been as simple as having them go with another class to P.E.), she also made it clear to the class what was happening, opening up the boys for ridicule.

If a school cannot make a case that NOT celebrating a birthday, NOT eating pork is harmful, NOT singing in the Christmas concert is harmful, NOT reading Harry Potter is harmful...then leave the students alone.