“And that’s a good thing because a lot of people get their information through the media,” he said.
But the most effective place for that education to take place is in public schools, said Haynes, who spearheaded the initial guidelines for teaching about religion in public schools without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
He said progress has been made in the past 20 years to offer more religion courses, but it is not keeping pace with the country’s changing religious landscape, where minority faiths are increasingly clamoring to be heard in the public square.
“Religious literacy for the sake of education is a start,” Haynes said. “But my motivation is for religious freedom and peace among people and preparing young people for a world where religion matters.”
Hirano said that increased awareness and acceptance of other faith traditions in a community also makes it easier for children in minority faiths to integrate into American society.
He recalled growing up in a predominantly Mormon culture and often participated in LDS Church youth activities taking place at the local church across the street from his home. But he also had a separate social network among his Japanese American friends at the Buddhist temple.
He senses those walls have come down more in the past 10 years, and he sees his daughter visit her friend’s church and the friend visit the Buddhist temple.
“My daughter once asked, ‘Why don’t they realize that we are not that different from them? We just try to be kind and gentle to everybody,’” Hirano said.
And in some cases former Christians embrace the new faith tradition. For Napper, his journey toward Hinduism started when he was 15 years old in a karate class where he learned to meditate. He eventually founded the Ogden Meditation Center, and his interest in the practice took him in 2001 to India, where meditation and Hinduism were born.
The retired Homeland Security supervisor at Salt Lake City International Airport grips a string of large beads in his right hand while patiently explaining some of the aspects of his practice to this reporter, who interrupted his weekly Monday visit to the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple in South Jordan to meditate. He says what sets Hinduism apart for him is the internal rather than outward nature of worship.
“It feels good,” he says, succinctly explaining why he makes the trip from Ogden. “It’s a feeling of deeper-than-normal peace.”
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